Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 18 Apr 2015 03:11:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Sexual Violence in Conflict “The Contemporary Moral Issue” Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:54:23 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140190 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in war must end, said Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, who presented to the U.N. Security Council the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on the issue on April 15.

Speaking to the Council, Bangura said, “The history of war zone rape has been a history of denial. It is time to bring these crimes, and those who commit them, into the spotlight of international scrutiny.”

Calling on Council member states, Bangura remarked that sexual abuse is used in war as a tool to terrorise, displace victims and establish power, by state and non-state actors, as well as militia rebel groups.

Hamsatu Allamin, from the “Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”, a Nigerian NGO, urged the Council to find concrete solutions.

“Women’s meaningful participation in peace and security processes must be a core component of any effort to effectively reduce and address incidents of conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.

The U.N. report acknowledges for the first time the impacts of the “use of sexual rape as a war tactic upon women, girls, but also men and boys, by extremist armed groups – providing a list of 45 suspected parties – in countries such as Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.”

The study, which analysed the situation in 19 war torn countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Middle East, described sexual violence as a “truly global crime”, coming in the form of abuse, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and nudity.

Sexual violence is also used as an instrument of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, the report noted. It highlighted the risks for LGBT individuals, which are targeted by armed groups which seek to impose social control and “morality”.

In a previous talk at the U.N. earlier in the week, Bangura told the press that including women into the peacebuilding and peacemaking framework would be a strong step forward in offering them the possibility to increase their power and role in conflict societies.

Progress is being made, Bangura explained, as in the past two years the international community has cooperated with the African Union, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, and will soon with the League of Arab States. Also a number of regional organizations have appointed envoys on women, peace and security.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

 

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Acid Attacks Still a Burning Issue in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 04:32:46 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140150 Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Vinita Panikker, 26, considers herself “the world’s most unfortunate woman”.

Three years ago, a jealous husband, who suspected her of having an affair with her boss at a software company, poured a whole bottle of hydrochloric acid on her face while she was asleep. The fiery liquid seared her flesh, blighting her face almost entirely while blinding her in one eye.

"It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most." -- Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor and founder of the Palash Foundation
What remains today of a once pretty visage is a disfigured and taut stretch of burnt skin with nose, lips, and eyelids flattened out almost completely. Despite spending 10,000 dollars on 12 reconstructive surgeries and two eye operations, the acid attack survivor is still partially blind.

From earning a five-figure salary as a software professional, Panikker today ekes out a living as a cook at a local non-profit. “My life has taken a 180-degree turn,” she tells IPS. “From a successful career woman, I’m now a social reject with neither resources nor family to call my own.”

Acid attacks in India have ravaged the lives of thousands of young women whose only fault was that they repudiated marriage proposals, rejected sexual advances from men they didn’t fancy, or were caught in the crossfire of domestic disputes.

In India’s patriarchal society, men who take umbrage at being spurned turn to acid as a retributive weapon.

“Acid attacks severely damage and burn skin tissue, often exposing and even dissolving the bones,” explains Rohit Bhargava, senior consultant dermatologist with Max Hospital in Noida, a suburban district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where 185 out of 309 acid attacks reported in 2014 took place.

“Long-term consequences include blindness, permanent scarring of the face and body, disability and lifelong physical disfigurement,” the doctor tells IPS.

But some survivors, whose appearance changes overnight, say the psychological scars are the ones that take longest to heal. There are social ramifications too, as the attacks usually leave victims disabled in some way, thereby increasing their dependence on family members for even the most basic daily activities.

Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor who launched the Palash Foundation to address social reintegration and livelihood alternatives for people with disfigurement, says social exclusion is far more painful than any physical injury inflicted on an acid attack victim. “It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most,” she tells IPS.

In 1998, Juwaley’s husband doused her with acid after she sought a divorce. Despite several police complaints, he still roams free, while Juwaley has had to painfully piece her life back together again.

Today she has a busy schedule, and travels the world addressing conferences and symposia on the social, financial and psychological impact of acid burns. Her organisation also studies the social exclusion of people who live with altered bodies.

Slow progress on legal deterrents

The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a London-based charity, tentatively estimates that some 1,000 acid attacks occur every year in India. However, in the absence of official statistics, campaigners put the true figure even higher: at roughly 400 every month.

“The fear of reprisals inhibits many women from coming forward to report their ordeal,” explains Ashish Shukla, a coordinator at Stop Acid Attacks, a Delhi-based non-profit that has rehabilitated and empowered over 100 acid attack victims since its inception in 2013.

“In India, acid attacks are even worse than rape as the victims, who are usually female, are subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Most of the women are shunned and ostracised […],” explains Shukla.

The activist adds that public and government apathy results in a double victimisation of the survivors. “They are forced to repeatedly appear in court, recount their trauma, and [visit] doctors even as they grapple with their personal tragedy of physical disfigurement, loss of employment and social discrimination,” elaborates the activist.

As per the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, a person convicted of carrying out an acid attack in India can be sentenced to anything from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The Supreme Court ruled on Jul. 16, 2013, that all states regulate the sale of easily available substances like hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acids – common choices among perpetrators – adding that buyers must provide a photo identity card to any retailer, who in turn should record each customer’s name and address.

However, most retailers IPS spoke to demonstrated complete ignorance of the law. “This is the first time I’m hearing about this ruling,” Suresh Gupta, owner of Gupta Stores, a small, family-owned outfit in Noida, tells IPS.

Campaigners say that this horrific form of gender-based violence will not end until the government makes it much harder for offenders to procure their weapon of choice; currently, one-litre bottles of acid can be purchased over the counter without a prescription for as little as 33 cents.

The Supreme Court has condemned the Centre for failing to formulate a strong enough policy to curb acid sales. In early April, the Court directed private hospitals to treat acid attack survivors free of cost, and additionally ruled that states must take action against medical facilities that fail to comply with this directive.

Experts say India should take a leaf out of the books of neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh by firming up implementation of existing laws. In Bangladesh, acid assaults have plummeted from 492 cases in 2002 to 75 last year, according to ASTI, since the government introduced the death penalty for acid attacks.

Stiffer legislation in Pakistan has resulted in a 300-percent rise in the number of women coming forward to report the crime.

Progress in India has been slower, although the state governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have set a good precedent by funding the entire cost of medical treatment for some acid attack survivors.

Ritu Saa is one such example. The 20-year-old who had to give up her studies following an acid attack in 2012 by her cousin is today a financially independent woman. She works at the Cafe Sheroes’ Hangout, an initiative launched by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, which employs several survivors.

“The campaign and the government have really helped me a lot,” Saa tells IPS. “Today, I have a job, a decent salary, good food, accommodation and am standing on my own feet.”

While acid attacks have traditionally been perceived as a problem involving male perpetrators and female victims, advocates say that attacks on men are also surging, with a third of all cases reported each year involving males embroiled in property or financial disputes.

Rights activists and campaigners contend that until the government formulates and enforces a multi-pronged approach to ending this grisly practice, scores of people in this country of 1.2 billion remain at risk of suffering a fate that some say is worse than death.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Bangladesh, Gender Equality Comes on the Airwaveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:14:03 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140088 Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

Judging by how often they make headlines, one might be tempted to believe that women in Bangladesh don’t play a major role in this country’s affairs.

A recent media monitoring survey by the non-governmental organisation Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) revealed that out of 3,361 news items studied over a two-month period, “Only 16 percent of newspaper stories, 14 percent of television news [items], and 20 percent of radio news [items] considered women as subjects or interviewed them.”

“Most of our audience are poor and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular." -- Sharmin Sultana, a news anchor for Radio Pollikontho in northeastern Bangladesh
Fewer than eight percent of all the stories had women as the central focus. Of the few women who actually made an appearance on the TV screen, 97 percent were reading out the news, while just three percent fell into the category of ‘reporters’.

Only 0.03 percent of all bylined stories studied during that period carried a woman’s name.

The monitoring report found that even though more women appeared in photographs than men, they were quoted far fewer times, proving the old proverb that, in this country of 157 million people, women are still “seen and not heard.”

While these statistics might seem daunting, women across the country who are not content to sit by and wait for the situation to change have taken matters into their own hands. They are doing so by getting on the airwaves and using the radio as a tool to raise the voices of women and bring rural issues into the limelight.

Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Like the vast majority of people here they are concentrated in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population – live.

Their distance from policy-making urban centres casts a double cloak of invisibility over women: according to data gleaned from the BNPS study, a mere 12 percent of newspaper articles, seven percent of TV news items and just five percent of radio stories focused on rural or remote areas – even though urban areas cover just eight percent of this vast country’s landmass, and host just 28 percent of the population.

The absence of women and women’s issues in the media is a dangerous trend in a country that ranked 142nd out of 187 states in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s most recent Gender Inequality Index (GII), making Bangladesh one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yet, even this is not mentioned in the news: the BNPS study showed that less than one percent of over 3,000 news items surveyed made any mention of gender inequality, while only 11 news stories challenged prevailing gender stereotypes.

Given that Bangladesh has an extremely low literacy rate of 59 percent compared to the global average of 84.3 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the importance of radio cannot be underestimated.

Even in a nation where 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, radio is a widespread, relatively affordable means of plugging into the world, and is extremely popular among the millions of rural families that comprise the bulk of this country.

Lifting the voices of rural women

Momena Ferdousi, a 24-year-old student hailing from Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapai Nawabganj District, is one of the country’s up-and-coming radio professionals.

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

She is the senior programme producer for Radio Mahananda, a community radio station launched in 2011 that caters primarily to the thousands of farming families in this agricultural region that comprises part of the 7,780-square-km Barind Tract.

She tells IPS she would not be where she is today without the support and training she, and scores of other aspiring female radio workers, received from the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC).

Fellowships and capacity-building initiatives sponsored by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 14 regional community radio stations around the country.

“The road to my employment was challenging,” Ferdousi explains, “but BNNRC saw the potential in me and [other] female journalists and I believe we have made substantial changes by addressing gaps in women’s right to information.”

Miles away, the confident voice of Sharmin Sultana on Radio Pollikontho, broadcast in the northeastern district of Moulvibazar, reaches roughly 400,000 people spread over a 17-km radius.

With five hours of daily programming that focus largely on issues relevant to rural women, Radio Pollikontho has filled a huge gap in this community.

“It is an amazing feeling to conduct a programme, interact live with guests and respond to our audience’s requests to discuss health, women’s rights, social injustice, education and agriculture,” Sultana tells IPS. “When we began we had only one programme on women’s issues, now we run five programmes weekly, exclusively dedicated to women.”

“Most of our audience are poor,” she explains, “and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular and the demand for interactive live programmes is increasing by the day.”

The difficulties facing women here in Bangladesh are legion.

Only 16.8 million women are employed in the formal sector, with the vast majority of them performing unpaid domestic labour on top of their duties in the farm or field.

A lack of financial independence makes them extremely vulnerable to domestic violence: a recent study by the deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that 87 percent of currently married women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands, while 98 percent say they have been sexually ‘violated’ by their spouses at some point during marriage.

The survey also revealed that one-third of all married women faced ‘economic abuse’ – the forcible withholding of a partner’s financial assets for the purpose of maintaining financial dependence on the perpetrator of violence.

In 2011, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence.

Other issues, like child marriage, also make pressing news bulletins for community radio stations directed at women: according to United Nations data, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthday.

The situation is bleak, but experts say that as women become educated and aware of their rights, the tide will inevitable turn for the better.

BNNRC Chief Executive Officer A H M Bazlur Rahman, who pioneered rural radio broadcasting efforts around the country, tells IPS, “Issues like budget allocation, lack of appropriate sanitation, violence against women, fighting corruption, [and] education for girls are [often] neglected by policy makers. But if we can give women a voice, these problems [will] gradually disappear.”

It remains to be seen whether or not more women’s voices on the air will uplift the half of Bangladesh’s population in need of empowerment. But every time a woman’s voice crackles to life on a radio show, it means one more woman out there is hearing her story, learning her rights and moving closer to equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Still Struggling to Gain Equal Foothold in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 17:31:28 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140071 A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Kali Sunar, 25, a resident of the Dumpada village in the remote Humla District in Far-West Nepal, lives a life that mirrors millions of her contemporaries.

From the minute she rises early in the morning until she finally rests her head at night, this rural woman’s chief concern is how to meet her family’s basic, daily needs.

"Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference." -- Usha Kala Rai, a leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist)
Her small plot of arable land scarcely produces enough food to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. With few other options open to them, her husband and her brother travel to neighbouring India to work as labourers, like scores of others in this landlocked country of 27.5 million people.

“The money they send is not enough because more than half of it is spent on their travel back and forth,” Sunar tells IPS. “If only I could get some kind of work, it would be a huge relief.”

Roughly 23 million people, accounting for 85 percent of Nepal’s population, live in rural areas. Some 7.4 million of them are women of reproductive age. Many are uneducated – the female literacy rate is 57.4 percent, compared to 75 percent for men – and while this represents progress, experts say that until women in Nepal gain equal footing with their male counterparts, the lives of women like Sunar will remain stuck in a rut.

Nepal has signed a string of international treaties that promise gender parity – but many of these pledges have remained confined to the paper on which they were written.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nepal ratified in 1991, specifies for instance that states parties must take all necessary steps to prevent the exclusion of, or violence towards, women; sadly, this has not been a reality.

According to the Kathmandu-based Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon, an initiative to provide support to victims of abuse, gender-based violence is the leading cause of death among Nepali women aged 19 to 44 years – more than war, cancer or car accidents.

The organisation further estimates: “22 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15; 43 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; [and] between 5,000 and 12,000 girls and women are trafficked every year.”

Some 75 percent of these girls are under 18; the majority of them are sold into forced prostitution.

Rights activists say that the country also routinely flouts its commitment to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, in legal matters, and in numerous other civic, economic and social spheres.

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Not only international treaties but domestic mechanisms, too, have failed to pull the brakes on sex discrimination and gender-based inequities.

A 2007 Interim Constitution, designed to ease Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic, made provisions for women – as well as for other marginalised groups like Dalits (lower caste communities) Adivasis (indigenous and tribal groups), Madhesis (residents of the southern plains) and poor farmers and labourers – to be active political participants based on the principle of proportional inclusive representation.

These were all steps in the right direction, bolstered by the 2008 election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), which saw women occupying 33 percent of all seats in the 601-member parliament.

However, that number fell to 30 percent in the second election, held in 2013, the first after the CA failed to draft a new constitution. With only 11.53 percent of women in the cabinet, experts say there is an urgent need to increase the number of women at the decision-making level.

According to a monitoring report by the non-governmental organisation Saathi, which tracked progress on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) relating to women, peace and security, women’s participation in Nepal’s judiciary stands at an average of 2.3 percent, with 5.6 percent of women in the Supreme Court, 3.7 percent in the appellate courts, none in the special courts and 0.89 in the district courts.

Women’s representation in security agencies is even more worrisome, according to a 2012 study entitled ‘Changes in Nepalese Civil Services after the Adoption of Inclusive Policy and Reform Measures’: there are only 1.6 percent women in Nepal’s army, 3.7 percent in the armed police force and 5.7 percent in the regular police force.

Dismal numbers of female civil servants across a broad spectrum of service groups also spell trouble: women account for just 9.3 percent of civil servants in the education sector, 4.4 percent in the economic planning and statistics division, 4.9 percent in agricultural affairs, 2.2 percent in engineering and two percent in forestry.

Only in the health sector do women come anywhere close to their male counterparts, with 4,887 out of 13,936 positions, roughly 36 percent, occupied by women.

Still, even this number is low, considering the health indicators for women that could be improved by boosting women’s representation at higher levels of politics and government: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nepal has a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births. Only 15 percent of Nepali women have access to healthcare facilities.

Data from Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that only 19.71 percent of all families exercise female ownership of land or housing, another reason why women continue to languish on the lowest rung of the social ladder with little ability to exercise their own independence.

Although Nepal’s female labour force participation rate is higher than many of its South Asian neighbours – 80 percent, compared to 36 percent in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India, 32 percent in Sri Lanka and 24 percent in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Oragnisation (ILO) – working women are burdened by social attitudes, which dictate that women undertake domestic labour as well as their other jobs.

“This makes it difficult for women to perform [in their chosen field] and have an impact,” explains Mahalaxmi Aryal, a member of the CA from the Nepali Congress.

Usha Kala Rai, a prominent women’s rights activist and politician, admits that the country has many legal grounds on which to address women’s issues, but says they are seldom utilised to their best effect.

“We completely lack the political will and the commitment to implement these legal provisions,” says Rai, a former member of the Constituent Assembly and leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist).

She calls for increased numbers of women in decision-making roles, but acknowledges that those who make it to the top generally come from the elite class, with the added privilege of having received a good education – thus they are not necessarily representative of women across the socio-economic spectrum.

She tells IPS she favours a system of proportional representation for all state bodies on the basis of the female share of Nepal’s population – 52 percent.

“Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference,” she explains, citing the creation of the 2008 Women’s Caucus, comprised of all 197 women in the Constituent Assembly representing every major political party, to stand together for women’s rights irrespective of ideology.

However, pressure from male leaders meant that the second Constituent Assembly was unable to revive the Caucus, with the result that women no longer have a unified platform on which to voice their collective demands.

“Women politicians have been handpicked by their parties under the proportional representation (PR) [system], which makes them vulnerable to partisan politics,” political science professor Mukta Singh Lama tells IPS.

Until such a system is replaced with one that prioritises genuine inclusion of women at every level of the state, experts fear that Nepal’s women will not have an equal hand in the shaping of this country.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Threats to Afghan Women Rights Defenders Being Met with Blind Eyehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 05:02:48 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140059 By Sean Buchanan
KABUL, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Women human rights defenders in Afghanistan face mounting violence but are being abandoned by their own government – and the international community is doing far too little to ease their plight – despite the significant gains they have fought to achieve, says Amnesty International in a new report released Apr. 7.

The report titled ‘Their Lives On The Line’ documents how champions for the rights of women and girls, including doctors, teachers, lawyers, police and journalists as well as activists, have been targeted not just by the Taliban but by warlords and government officials as well.

Rights defenders have suffered car bombings, grenade attacks on homes, killing of family members and targeted assassinations. Many continue their work despite suffering multiple attacks, in the full knowledge that no action will be taken against the perpetrators.

“Women human rights defenders from all walks of life have fought bravely for some significant gains over the past 14 years – many have even paid with their lives. It’s outrageous that Afghan authorities are leaving them to fend for themselves, with their situation more dangerous than ever,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, in Kabul to launch the report.

“With the troop withdrawal nearly complete, too many in the international community seem happy to sweep Afghanistan under the carpet. We cannot simply abandon this country and those who put their lives on the line for human rights, including women’s rights.”

There has been significant international investment to support Afghan women, including efforts to strengthen women’s rights, but too much of it has been piecemeal and ad hoc and much of the aid money is drying up, says Amnesty International.

While Taliban are responsible for the majority of attacks against women defenders, government officials or powerful local commanders with the authorities’ backing are increasingly implicated in violence and threats against women.

As one woman defender explained: “The threats now come from all sides: it’s difficult to identify the enemies. They could be family, security agencies, Taliban, politicians.”

Based on interviews with more than 50 women defenders and their family members across the country, Amnesty International found a consistent pattern of authorities ignoring or refusing to take threats against women seriously.

No woman in public life is safe – those facing threats and violence range from rights activists, politicians, lawyers, journalists, teachers. Even women in the police force are under threat, where sexual harassment and bullying is rife and almost always goes unpunished.

Despite the existence of a legal framework to protect women in Afghanistan – much of it thanks to tireless campaigning by women’s rights activists themselves – laws are often badly enforced and remain mere paper promises. The landmark Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law, passed in 2009, remains unevenly enforced and has only led to a limited number of convictions.

“The Afghan government is turning a blind eye to the very real threat women human rights defenders are facing. These brave people – many of them simply doing their jobs – are the bulwark against the oppression and violence that is part of daily life for millions of women across the country. The government must ensure they are protected, not ignored,” said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Researcher.

“Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future, and is at arguably the most critical moment in its recent history. Now is not the time for international governments to walk away,” said Salil Shetty. “The international community must step up with continued engagement and the Afghan government cannot continue to ignore its human rights obligations.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Challenging the Power of the One Percenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-challenging-the-power-of-the-one-percent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-challenging-the-power-of-the-one-percent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-challenging-the-power-of-the-one-percent/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 22:06:32 +0000 Lydia Alpizar Duran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140005

Lydia Alpízar Durán is executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

By Lydia Alpízar Durán
SAO PAULO, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

When you are faced with the task of moving an object but find it is too heavy to lift, what is your immediate and most natural response? You ask someone to help you lift it. And it makes all the difference.

And so in the face of unprecedented economic, ecological and human rights crises, we should not hunker down in our silos, but rather join together and use our collective power to overcome the challenges.

The recent World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis, showed that ‘Another World Is Possible’ if we work collectively to address the structural causes of inequality.

It is for this reason that the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) has pledged to work together with ActionAid, Civicus, Greenpeace and Oxfam.

The gathering of approximately 70,000 activists in Tunis, the various workshops held on alternate economic models – including an AWID-led session on ‘Feminist Imaginations for a Just Economy’ – the protests against shrinking spaces for dissent and the calls for social justice are critical in a world where the economic, ecological and human rights crises are interconnected and getting worse.

This is the power of the World Social Forum (WSF). This 13th edition, held for the second time in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, is a reminder, and a call to action that it is people power that will change the world.

Changing the world, especially where women’s rights and gender justice is concerned, means recognising and bringing visibility to the interrelatedness of issues.

While in the past 20 years there have been notable achievements for women’s rights and gender justice, there is still so much more to be done.

At the centre of the current global crisis is massive economic inequality that has become the global status quo. Some 1.2 billion impoverished people account for only one percent of world consumption while the million richest consume 72 percent.

The levels of consumption in the global North cannot be sustained on this planet by its peoples or the Earth itself. They are disappearing whole ecosystems and displacing people and communities.

The challenges are not only increasing, but also deepening. Many women and girls, trans and intersex people continue to experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and vulnerability throughout their lives.

These include the disproportionate impact of poverty, religious fundamentalisms and violence on women, growing criminal networks and the increasing power of transnational corporations over lands and territories, deepening conflicts and militarisation, widespread gender-based violence, and environmental destruction.

Women have been caretakers of the environment and food producers for centuries, and are now at the forefront of its defense against habitat destruction and resource extraction by corporations.

Violence against women who defend the earth occurs with impunity, at precisely the moment when ‘women and girls’ are also receiving the attention of various corporate philanthropic actors as drivers for development.

Government and institutional commitments to address inequalities for the most part have been weak. And while people’s mobilisation and active citizenship are crucial, in all regions of the world the more people mobilise to defend their rights, the more the civic and political space is being closed off by decision-making elites.

This year’s Political Declaration from the United Nations’ 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) is just the latest example.

Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration – the most progressive ‘blueprint’ for women’s rights of its time and the result of 30,000 activists from around the globe putting pressure on 189 participating government representatives – women’s rights and feminist groups were shut out of the CSW ‘negotiations’ with the result that the Declaration is weak and does not go far enough towards the kind of transformative change necessary to truly achieve the promises made in Beijing.

The forces of justice, freedom and equity are being relentlessly pushed back. There is an urgent need to strengthen our collective voices and power, to further expand our shared analyses and build interconnected agendas for action.

The WSF contributes to doing just that. At this year’s WSF, there was a diversity of feminist activists in attendance and the systemic causes of global inequalities were addressed in intersectional ways linking new relationships to land, and land use to patriarchy, food sovereignty, decolonisation and corporate power.

These connections make the struggle seem huge but also make possible solidarity between movements.

As a global network of feminist and women’s rights activists, organisations and movements, AWID has been working for over 30 years to transform dominant structures of power and decision-making and advance human rights, gender justice and environmental sustainability. In all that we do, collaboration is at the core.

I strongly believe that we cannot achieve meaningful transformation unless we join together in all of our diversity. So for AWID, joining with the struggles for environmental sustainability, just economies and human rights, is another step in a long trajectory of working with and for other movements.

Together we can take bolder steps, push each other further, and draw upon our combined knowledge and collective power to amplify our voices. Working together is the only way to reverse inequality, and to achieve a just and sustainable world.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Activists Protest Denial of Condoms to Africa’s High-Risk Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:46:40 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139919 Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

Tatenda Chivata, a 16-year old from Zimbabwe’s Mutoko rural district, was suspended from school for an entire three-month academic term after he was found with a used condom stashed in his schoolbag.

Regerai Chigodora, a 34-year-old prisoner at a jail in Harare, had his 36-year sentence stretched to 45 years after he was caught with used condoms in prison early this year.

With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered,

“It will be hard for Africa to win the war against HIV/AIDS if certain groups of people like students and prisoners are being skipped from preventive measures,” Tamasha Nyerere, an independent HIV/AIDS counsellor based in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, told IPS.

Human rights activists in Zimbabwe say more cases of youths like Chivata and prisoners like Chigodora may be going unreported in countries where condom use in jails and schools is anathema.With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered.

“It’s indeed disturbing how hard we have worked as Africa to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS yet we have not been so pragmatic in our bid to institute preventive measures in schools and jails, where most of our African governments have vehemently refused to allow condoms to be distributed with the common excuse that they promote homosexuality in jails and sexual immorality in schools,” Elvis Chuma, a gay activist in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, told IPS.

Zimbabwean prisoner Chigodora agreed, telling IPS that “whether or not authorities here like it, homosexuality is rife in jails and even if we may smuggle in condoms to use secretly, if you get caught like in my case, you will be in for serious trouble.”

Schoolchildren in Africa like Zimbabwe’s Chivata have to contend with secret use of condoms in school. Their only crime is that they are underage, said Chivata.

“I’m serving a suspension from school because I was caught with a condom I used during sex with my girlfriend, but the same teachers teach us about use of protection if we get tempted to engage in sex. Now I’m wondering if I was wrong using a condom. Perhaps I could have gone undetected if I had opted to have unprotected sex,” he told IPS.

Under Zimbabwe’s Legal Age of Majority Act, any Zimbabwean under the age of 18 years is a minor, while a person between the age of 16 years and 18 years is defined as a young person under the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act.

Sodomy is also a punishable offence in Zimbabwe, which rights activists say, makes it difficult for this Southern African nation and other African nations to distribute condoms in prisons.

“African countries like Zimbabwe are being cornered by their own laws which bar them from dishing out condoms to prisoners and school children,” Tonderai Zivhu, chairperson of the Open Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a lobby group in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, told IPS.

South Africa and Namibia may be the only two out of Africa’s 54 countries that have adopted HIV/AIDS preventive measures in schools and jails.

In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, giving children 12 years and older the right to obtain contraceptives. The country’s Department of Correctional Services also provides condoms to inmates.

In Namibia, the country’s policy on HIV/AIDS states that all convicted prisoners awaiting trial and inmates are entitled to have access to the same HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary counselling and testing, means of prevention, treatment, care and support as is available to the general population.

Other African countries, however, seem unclear about their position on condoms use in jails and schools.

Last year, the government of Rwanda confirmed the prevalence of homosexuality in prisons, but was non-committal on whether or not it would start distributing condoms in its correctional facilities.

This year, Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told parliament that parents were free to pack condoms for their children in their schoolbags, but that the government would not allow them to be openly distributed at schools.

“We must say children are in school to learn and be initiated for certain life skills, and when it comes to condoms, you are the guardian of your child and you must have an intimate connection with your child so that when you pack their school luggage and prepare their books you can also pack condoms,” Dokora had said.

This laissez-faire approach has incensed certain African indigenous pro-culture activists who have been vocal in their calls against condom distribution in prisons and schools.

“Distributing condoms in prisons and in schools will render African governments accomplices to the commission of the crime of sodomy and sexual immorality among school-going children, which is against our cultural values and norms as Africans,” Bupe Mwansa, head of the Culture and Traditions Conservation Association in Zambia, an indigenous pro-culture lobby group, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 3.2 million children lived with HIV at the end of 2013, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 145,000 HIV-positive children from Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) states that Zimbabwe has a total of 18,000 prisoners, with 28 percent of these living with HIV and AIDS.

In South Africa, an estimated 41.4 percent of that country’s 166,267 prisoners are also living with HIV/AIDS, based on statistics from the Ministry of Health there, despite the country being the only African nation that does not outlaw homosexuality.

Although other African governments admit there are sexual activities going on in schools and prisons, they remain hesitant to allow condom distribution in them.

“School children engage in premarital and often unprotected sex, yes we know, and prisoners also have unprotected anal sex, but presently there is nothing we can do as government to address these challenges because our laws do not allow underage children to engage in sex while homosexual, now rife in our jails, is also unlawful,” a top Zimbabwean government official speaking on the condition of anonymity told PS.

But for human rights doctors like Nomalanga Zwane in Johannesburg, fighting HIV/AIDS in schools and jails requires drastic measures.

“If school kids are left on their own with the belief that they are not engaging in sex because they are barred by being underage, we are fighting a losing battle against HIV/AIDS because the same school pupils will spread the disease even outside school while prison inmates with no access to condoms will also one day come out of jail and further spread the disease,” Zwane told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s ex-convicts like 37-year-old Jimson Gwatidzo, now an ardent campaigner for the distribution of condoms in jails after he contracted HIV in jail, sees no credible reason why some African governments forbid condoms in prisons “in the face of rampant rape-induced HIV/AIDS infections behind prison walls.”

“It is time for governments across Africa to scrap anti-sodomy laws to allow for the distribution of condoms in prisons and be able to fight HIV/AIDS spread in jails without legal barriers,” Gwatidzo told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Education as a Cornerstone for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 22:32:24 +0000 Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139871 Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, the Barack Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to improve girls’ education around the world. Dubbed “Let Girls Learn,” the programme builds on current progress made, such as ensuring girls are enrolled in primary school at the same rates as boys, and is looking to expand opportunities for girls to complete their education.

The Obama administration’s leadership on this issue is commendable and incredibly important for moving global momentum on girls’ education forward.Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls - and indeed entire communities - will be deprived of future leaders.

We know that keeping girls in school and providing them with a quality education that can prepare them for their future continues to pay dividends down the line, including better health outcomes and better financial stability for girls themselves, and also for their families and communities.

Research shows that girls with secondary school education are six times less likely to marry early compared to girls who have very little or no education. Additionally, each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the probability of infant mortality by as much as 10 per cent and each extra year of secondary schooling can increase a girl’s future earnings by 10 to 20 per cent.

But around the world, far too many girls face insurmountable barriers that often cause girls to drop out of school, ultimately preventing them from getting the quality education they deserve.

Recently, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted research to assess the main causes of school drop out for girls in two districts of the West Nile sub-region of Uganda where only six girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary school, a ratio far below the national average.

A predominantly rural and impoverished region, West Nile, Uganda’s recent past has been characterized by war and conflict.

As such, poverty plays a huge role in girls’ inability to continue school. Of the girls who dropped out of school nearly 50 per cent listed financial reasons as the main reason they dropped out of school. Pregnancy was the second most common reason girls gave for leaving school.

While these factors are indeed eye-opening, our research found, however, that gender norms and beliefs about the roles of women as compared to men, were among the most significant determinants of school dropout for girls in West Nile.

Traditionally in West Nile, girls were taught to be subservient to the men to whom they ‘belonged’, first to their fathers and then later in life to their husbands. Despite significant social change that has taken place over the past number of decades,  deeply-rooted gender norms and expectations are carried from one generation to the next and have a profound impact on girls’ and their families’ expectations and hopes for girls futures, and girls’ determination and ability to finish – or drop out of –school.

For example, while most parents surveyed said they value girls’ and boys’ schooling equally, they acknowledge burdens at home, like chores and housework, fall on the girls in the family, rather than the boys. Consequently, girls who reported their domestic chores had interfered with their schooling in the past were three times more likely to drop out.

The domestic sphere remains solely a woman’s domain in the West Nile, and in the face of high adult mortality due to poverty, war, and HIV, girls who lost a parent were even more likely to have to take on a high household chore burden. This set of burdens often includes caring for younger siblings, which likely contributes to girls in the study reporting only starting school on average at the age of 8.25 years, more than two years past the intended starting age of six.

For girls who become pregnant while in school, dropout is almost inevitable. Only 4 per cent of girls who reported they had ever been pregnant were still enrolled in school. Pregnancy is often followed by a forced marriage and the accompanying expectation that a girl’s responsibilities should now shift from her education to caring for her child.

These data highlight just how many barriers girls face in continuing their education, with so many of those barriers finding deep roots in cultural norms that simply don’t value girls the way they value boys. And while this study was conducted in the West Nile region of Uganda, gender norms that continue to hold girls back are certainly not rare around the world.

In order to succeed in letting girls learn, governments, schools, communities and families must dismantle barriers for girls where they exist. Local governments and communities must ensure girls get off to a good start with their education, by disseminating information about existing policies for the age at start of school, because we know that when girls are enrolled in school on time and progress through each grade on schedule, they’re more likely to continue their education.

The education and health sectors must also work with local governments to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools to improve knowledge of and access to reproductive health services to help prevent pregnancy, which currently marks the end of a girl’s education in Uganda.

Additionally, we know that eight of ten girls who dropped out of school in West Nile, Uganda are eager to return to school if given the opportunity, but for the girls who dropped out due to pregnancy this is a near impossibility.

Re-entry and retention policies for pregnant girls and mothers who gave birth as children must be strengthened so that these girls do not miss out on the opportunity to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty, which is all the more likely for an adolescent single mother without a secondary education.

Education is, simply put, a cornerstone for women’s empowerment and subsequently for local and national development.

Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls – and indeed entire communities – will be deprived of future leaders that could be instrumental in helping to combat poverty in the community, which could empower more girls for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: ‘We Owe It to More Than Half of the Global Population to Do a Better Job’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 12:29:10 +0000 Josephine Ojiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139802 Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

By Josephine Ojiambo
LONDON, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Undoubtedly, we are at a crucial time in the advancement of gender equality.

As we move towards consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must ensure the rights of women and girls are firmly embedded in the post-2015 development framework.It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

Twenty years ago, leaders and global activists met in Beijing and created what was the most progressive roadmap to champion the rights of women – the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark declaration, we must also caution against complacency as countries renew efforts to remove barriers that block women’s full and equal participation in all sectors of society.

An issue of serious concern remains the under-representation of women in politics. Until women are adequately represented at the highest level of policy making and decision making, we cannot hope to achieve the development aspirations of half the population.

We must accelerate efforts to reach the internationally agreed targets of 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making roles.

The Commonwealth has made significant progress towards increasing women’s political participation. Out of 43 countries globally that have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent target, more than a third are Commonwealth countries.

We have seen the introduction of important measures to redress the lack of women in political leadership, such as quotas and national gender policies.

In India and Bangladesh, for example, constitutional amendments to reserve one-third of all local government seats for women have led to the election of over one million women.

These achievements are good but not good enough. Women continue to be marginalised, oppressed, and subjected to violence and cruelty – female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, trafficking, slavery and sexual violence.

A culture of impunity prevails when it comes to prosecuting and preventing such violations. Under these current conditions, is it any wonder that only 22 out of 193 countries have a woman as head of state or government?

I recall my own formative political experience in Kenya: my mother became the country’s first female cabinet minister in the early seventies, and remains a formidable politician even today. I witnessed the hardships she endured to rise through the ranks, and the adversity she faced when in office, as well as her successes and achievement.

I too had a similar experience when I joined the oldest political party in Kenya, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), as a volunteer and youth activist.

Over a period of 24 years, I rose through the ranks as a professional volunteer. This role granted me presence and agency; it ushered me forward to eventually be voted in as the first female secretary-general of the party.

It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

I learned many lessons during my experience in grassroots electoral politics – the sharing of good practices, the solidarity of sisterhood within the women’s movement, and the true support of key male champions.

Globally, however, women’s political participation continues to be thwarted by innumerable obstacles. Discrimination against women is rife.

Financial resources available to women to run political campaigns are scant or non-existent. Conflicts between work and family can be overwhelming.

We are all familiar with the tired saying, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’; it is exactly this type of regressive narrative that sets women back. Challenging gender-based stereotypes is still an ongoing, uphill battle.

Therefore, we must find ways to create inclusive and enabling environments where women are able to realise their full political, economic and social potential.

We must turn our attention to paving the way for future generations. Creating pathways that enable more young women to enter the ranks of political leadership is fundamental.

Education is the single most important tool to achieve this. Yet, women and girls continue to be denied the same opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Statistics show, overwhelmingly, that countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Nevertheless, patriarchal systems continue to downgrade the value women offer society as a whole.

Our Commonwealth Charter recognises that: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

To this end, we will work closely with member governments to fulfil international commitments in line with the stand-alone goal agreed at the 58th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Going forward, we seek to increase women’s participation in the political and corporate sectors through electoral and legislative reforms. We continue to push for the elimination of violence against women and girls in all Commonwealth countries.

Advancing women’s economic empowerment is another priority area. It is the social responsibility of governments to improve women’s enterprise and encourage business activity, thereby strengthening women’s economic power – one of the measures of overcoming poverty.

There is much work to be done. We must now deliver on promises to secure women’s equal participation in all echelons of society. We owe it to more than half of the global population to do a better job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Palestinian Women Victims on Many Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:17:44 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139798 Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Rape in Conflict: Speaking Out for What’s Righthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:21:59 +0000 Serra Sippel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139727

Serra Sippel is President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

By Serra Sippel
WASHINGTON, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech marking the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the bloody attack on civil rights marchers by police.

President Obama issued what was tantamount to a call to action for Americans to speak out for what is right. He stated: “…Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

As a longtime advocate for the health and human rights of women, I take President Obama’s words to heart. They express the core tenet of policy advocacy.

Advocates should applaud and praise government when it does the right thing for women and girls. And when it doesn’t, we must speak out for what’s right, even if it is disruptive and causes discomfort.

Last week, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) hosted a panel at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where panelists from Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and Dandelion Kenya spoke about the brutal sexual violence and rapes that women face, and the absence of comprehensive post rape care for these women and girls, especially when it comes to abortion access.

The discussion was disturbing and emotional as we heard about the fear, stigma, and suffering that so many women face while governments stand by and refuse to provide comfort and care—including the United States.

The status quo – that no U.S. foreign aid should support safe abortion access – is causing too much suffering in this world and it must end.

Only a few months ago the U.N. secretary-general released an important report stating: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”

The Obama administration has taken great strides toward women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health in U.S. foreign policy, from the USAID Strategy on Female Empowerment and Gender Equality to the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

And at the United Nations last September, President Obama focused on the serious problem of rape in conflict, acknowledging that, “mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.”

We applaud and praise the administration for such bold action. However, when it comes to reproductive rights and access to safe abortion for women and girls globally, the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate the same bold leadership.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. joined governments from around the world in a promise to women and girls that where abortion is legal, it should be safe and available. Today, the U.S. has not lived up to that promise. And when it comes to abortion access for women and girls raped in conflict, inaction by the U.S. government is unconscionable and advocates must speak out.

The time is now for the president to stand with women and girls and take executive action to support abortion access for women and girls in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The time is now for the president to answer the call to action echoed by advocates from around the world.

We have sent letters to the president from religious leaders and CEOs of global human rights and women’s rights organisations. We have brought advocates from South Africa, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda to speak directly to the White House to implore the president to act.

We rallied in front of the White House asking the president to stand with women and girls. And, we have gathered at CSW to share first-hand accounts of what women and girls are experiencing globally.

Ending the status quo on foreign aid and abortion means to boldly embrace the notion that women and girls matter. Our U.S. foreign aid must be used to save and improve lives—and that is what safe abortion does, especially for those raped in conflict.

CHANGE and others will continue to “speak out for what’s right” and “shake up the status quo,” because the lives of women and girls matter. I hope we can count on President Obama to join us.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Contradictions Beset U.N. Response to Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:36:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139694 The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

An internal United Nations expert report released Monday by the non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World reveals serious contradictions in the U.N.’s reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

The leaked expert team report, dated Nov. 3, 2013, begins by stating, “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has been judged the most significant risk to U.N. peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”Victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.” -- Paula Donovan

AIDS-Free World, which released the report, is concerned it “contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his 2015 update on Feb. 13.

Some of the key issues highlighted by AIDS-Free World include problems with the way the U.N. collects information about sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; delays in action taken which lead to effective impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel; and what the expert’s report described as “a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”

In an open letter addressed to “Ambassadors of All United Nations Member States” sent Monday, AIDS-Free World wrote, “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

“We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

Inadequate reporting mechanisms

IPS spoke with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who said that the expert team that compiled the 2013 report had the required expertise to address the complex problem of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and asked pressing questions.

Donovan explained that by contrast, the secretary-general’s recent report used inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms that didn’t account for the complexities of addressing an institutional culture of impunity towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Each year the secretary-general is required to report to the General Assembly on how he is doing. Are these special measures for protection against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse working? Are we getting closer to zero [cases]?”

However, the expert team reported that were a number of reasons for underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse and that “U.N. personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of SEA that are not being counted or investigated.”

“The U.N. does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA,” the report said.

Donovan said that the secretary-general’s focus on reporting a decrease in the number of allegations was problematic for a number of reasons. “One thing that people who understand these issues know is that when numbers go down, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that incidents have gone down. It may be a lack of confidence in the reporting process.”

Donovan added that experts on sexual violence would advise that, “when you put a programme in place that actually begins to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse, one indicator that your programme is working is that people feel safe enough to come forward.”

She said that U.N. peacekeepers were working “to protect the most vulnerable people on earth.”

For many reasons, therefore, victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.

“If you make it clear to people that you can demonstrate that it is a safer decision to report than to stay silent, that’s an indication that your programme is working,” Donovan siad.

Donovan added that the U.N.’s focus on reporting “allegations” as against actual cases meant that its reporting bears no resemblance to reality.

She also added that the numbers reported by the secretary-general were incomplete as well as inaccurate, because they did not include data from UNICEF, which has its own separate reporting mechanism.

Hopes for high-level review

There are hopes that the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will help find practical solutions to issues of impunity and transparency within U.N. Peace Operations, including those raised in this report.

Noting that the review panel was not entirely independent, given one of it’s members had been simultaneously U.N. under secretary-general in charge of Field Support for the first several months of the panel’s work, Donovan said that she still had hope that the review could address these complex issues.

Donovan said that Aids-Free World has sent a copy of the expert team’s report to panel chair José Ramos-Horta and that “if he chooses to independently take this on and insist that the U.N. take this on than there is the possibility of success.

“Under the leadership of José Ramos-Horta, it is possible that it won’t just be another panel,” she added.

Ramos-Horta shared a link to an article about Sexual Abuse by U.N. Peacekeepers with his more than 30,000 Facebook followers on Mar. 6.

Lack of U.N. freedom of information policy

Donovan told IPS that when Aids-Free World originally learned that there had been an expert inquiry, they wrote to the U.N. and asked for a copy of the report.

“We were told that it was not a public document,” she said.

Most governments have quite a clear Freedom of Information policy, which includes ways of categorising classified and unclassified documents. That is not necessarily so for the U.N. so it is unclear why this particular report was not released, Donovan said.

Asked for a response, the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement, “The proposals and initiatives presented to the General Assembly in A/69/779 reflect an integrated approach aimed at strengthening prevention, enforcement and remedial action in connection with sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.

“The report also revisits a number of proposals set out in the seminal 2005 Secretary-General report to the GA ‘A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations’ which was prepared by a special task force chaired by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, then Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations.

“The report included recommendations for holding courts martial in host countries and establishing a trust Fund for Victims. Prevention, combatting and remediating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are a top priority for the organization and will continue to be focus of sustained efforts to address the issue.”

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Often Forgotten In Cases Of Forced Disappearancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 22:10:55 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139693 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Governments must do more to address the impacts of forced disappearances of women, according to an international justice report released Monday.

Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has documented over 54,000 cases of such disappearances from all over the world.

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in releasing its report ‘The Disappeared and Invisible: Revealing the Enduring Impact of Enforced Disappearances on Women,’ urged governments to better address the effects of such crimes on females.

The report states women are the minority of those who are forcibly disappeared, but “the majority of family members who suffer exacerbated social, economic, and psychological disadvantages as a result of the loss of a male family member who is often a breadwinner.”

In surveying 31 countries – mostly in Africa and Central and South America – the ICTJ urged governments to remember “the need to consider women’s experiences, including when implementing measures like truth commissions, prosecutions, and reparations.”

The report states while women who have been forcibly disappeared experience much the same treatment as men in detention – including torture and ill treatment – women are often subject to gender-based violence including sexual violence and separation from their children.

The ICTJ said women left behind when a family member or partner is disappeared experience “ongoing victimisation” including poverty, family conflict and psychological trauma, as well as often being forced into low-paying, dangerous or exploitative working arrangements to support their families. Women may also face difficulty in accessing bank accounts, social services or ownership rights of property, which may be held in their partner’s name.

Flow-on effects are felt by children and other family members, including impacts on education, health and general well being.

“Although women make up the minority of those who are disappeared around the world, in almost every country we studied… they make up the majority of those who suffer serious, lasting harm after a disappearance,” said Amrita Kapur, senior associate for ICTJ’s Gender Justice programme.

“When a loved one goes missing, most often women are on the forefront of the search for truth and vulnerable to further abuses, even as they take on the role of breadwinner while raising children. Women’s stories are not being told, making it harder for governments to respond effectively.”

The report is part of an ongoing project between ICTJ and UN Women.

The report posits a set of recommendations to better support women who are left behind after the forced disappearance of a partner or family member. Chief among the findings is a call for a new legal category allowing relatives of a disappeared person to access benefits, inherit wealth and assets, and to dissolve marriages even without the person being declared dead.

The report cites the fact that remaining partners are often unwilling or unable to have their disappeared partner declared dead, but that many social benefits or legal avenues for redress only become available upon declaration of death.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Four Ways Women Bring Lasting Peace to the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:52:33 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139684 The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

2015 marks anniversaries for two significant commitments made to increasing women’s participation at peace tables.

Yet despite the Beijing Platform for Action and the Security Council Resolution 1325 both committing to increasing women’s participation in peace building 20 and 15 years ago, respectively, there has been very little progress to report.

The latest available statistics show that women made up only 9 per cent of negotiators at peace tables between 1992 and 2011. That the most recent data is from 2011 shows that more work is needed even in basic areas such as data collection and reporting of women’s participation in peace building.

IPS summarises here four reasons we should value women’s participation at the peace table more, based on discussions at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) over the past week.

Beijing Platform for Action Section E

Women and Armed Conflict Diagnosis

Strategic objective E.1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace. Actions to be taken

Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories. Actions to be taken.

  1. Women Bring Commitment and Experience to the Peace Table

Often the first people invited to participate in formal peace negotiations are the people holding the guns and the last are women who have expertise in building lasting peace.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told a CSW side event on Tuesday last week, “In the Central African Republic, the only community where they were not killing each other was a community where the Christian women said, ‘These Muslim women are our sisters.’

“Why? Because the women in the community said, ‘We have lived together for the last 100 years’,” Bangura said.

In the Phillipines, Irene Santiago was a member of the government panel that negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Santiago came to the table with years of experience working with Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women leaders for peace.

Speaking at a CSW side event at the International Peace Institute (IPI) on Thursday, Santiago said that she knew that her years of experience working with civil society for peace stood her in good stead to make a significant contribution to formal peace negotiations, which she did.

Speaking with IPS, Santiago said women’s voices not only have to be heard, but that they also have to be acted on.

“For women. It’s almost never always about themselves, it’s always about our children, our husbands but also about our communities,” Santiago told IPS.

In Africa, women have fought to be included in peacemaking, even when their contributions have not been recognised.

Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security to the African Union, says that mediators need to be held accountable when they only invite the people who hold guns to the peace table and ignore women’s contributions.

“I have been involved in many crises where women were knocking at the door and saying we want to be at the table,” Diop said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, known as the father of Security Council Resolution 1325, said that the determination of African women to be involved in peace negotiations should be seen as an inspiration by other countries.

Despite serious difficulties, war and conflict, African women have shown continued determination to hold their countries accountable, Chowdhury said.

  1. Gender Equality in Peace Time Prevents Conflict

Also speaking at the IPI, Valerie Hudson, co-author of ‘Sex and World Peace’, said that her research has shown that the way women are treated within a country is one of the most accurate indicators of the quality of relations that country will have with other countries.

Diop agreed with Hudson, saying that countries that are likely to fall into conflict have higher levels of discrimination and inequality.

“Discrimination against women, especially the non-participation and non-inclusion of women in democracy is … one of the root causes of the conflict,” Diop said.

Ambassador Choudhury agreed with these sentiments, telling IPS, “I believe that no country can claim that their country is not in conflict if women’s rights are denied, if women’s equality is not ensured, if women’s participation at all participation levels is not there.

“I think that if we women are violated, if women’s equality of participation is not there we cannot say that we are at peace, we are in conflict with ourselves. This is a conflict which is happening within ourselves and within the countries. We don’t have to go into the traditional description of conflict, civil conflict or fighting with another country,” Chowdhury added.

Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute also speaking at the IPI event said, “A world where 51 per cent are ignored is a dangerous world for everyone. I can’t imagine why any men would be indifferent to this.”

  1. Women Are Active In Civil Society

Several discussions at the CSW questioned why militaries were the primary actors in peace building, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society’s expertise was not called on.

Santiago told IPS that civil society, especially women, have a lot to contribute to humanise, to concretise, and to make peace negotiations relevant to people’s lives.

Winnie Kodi from the Nuba mountains in Sudan told reporters on Monday that civil society was vital to helping indigenous communities like her own that have been affected by conflict. She said that the main way her people were able to have their voices heard was by working together with NGOs and civil society.

Chowdhury told IPS he is advocating for the U.N. and governments to hold more consultations with civil society, saying that the involvement of women and of civil society is very important.

Santiago also called for renewed focus on the important role of NGOs in the area of women, peace and security,

“Again I see that why are we focusing on the UN as the locus of change,” she said. “To me it is not, it is the means, it is an important audience, but it is not the locus of social change.

“Let us form the global civic networks that we need to bring about the local global and civil change that we need” Santiago said.

  1. Women Challenge The Causes of Conflict

Challenging militarism and militarisation was another theme discussed during the first week of the CSW, particularly by civil society groups at the parallel NGO forum.

Choudhury told IPS that increased militarism and militarisation is slowing down efforts for equality. “Increasing militarism and militarisation has really been effecting women in a very negative way. This is something that women should stand up against, we should all stand up against,” Chowdhury said.

Militarisation is also affecting indigenous women and men. Maribeth Biano, from the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, told reporters on Monday that Indigenous women are hugely affected by militarisation in Indigenous territories.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Gender Equality, the Last Big Poverty Challengehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 12:50:40 +0000 Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139675 Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter
NEW YORK, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

It is estimated that women account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty. They also make up 60 per cent of the world’s 572 million working poor.

Rapid global change has undoubtedly opened doors for women to participate in social, economic and political life but gender inequality still holds women back.If you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

Around the globe, women and girls continue to have subordinate status, fewer opportunities and lower income, less control over resources, and less power than men and boys.

Son preference continues to deny girls the education they have a right to. And the burden of care work that women face impinges and intrudes on their opportunities in terms of education and career.

Now a new report to be launched by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Mar. 16 in New York examines the links between SRHR and three core aspects of gender equality: social development, economic participation and participation in political and public life.

The report, Sexual and reproductive health and rights – the key to gender equality and women’s empowerment, provides specific recommendations to governments and to United Nations agencies to make sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality become a reality.

The reason for the report is to assess objectively what we have long suspected, namely that sexual and reproductive health and rights are critical to achieving equality.

Why? Because when women are able to maintain good health the trajectory of their lives can be transformed.

There are fewer maternal deaths and less reproductive illness; women and girls can realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights, they are free to participate in social, economic and political life.

Stark figures show that the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights is a cause and consequence of deeply entrenched ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman.

Gender norms leave women and girls at risk and unable to reach their full potential. In some extreme cases, they can kill.

Women die because they cannot access the abortion services they need. Women die of preventable causes in childbirth. Women die at the hands of their violent partners. We see examples of this in all corners of the world.

Globally, one in three women experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence during their lifetime. And, shockingly, women how have experienced intimate partner violence are 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a major public health concern in all corners of the world. It’s a barrier to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and a constraint on development, with high economic costs.

And then there’s work. The percentage of women working in formal wage employment has increased over the last half century but a striking number of women are still likely to work in the informal economy due to gender inequality.

Across cultures and in all economies, women continue to do the bulk of unpaid care work. Women make up the majority of workers in the informal economy – 83 per cent of domestic workers worldwide are women.

Work in the informal economy can be more insecure and precarious, and can have specific impacts on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. For example, lack of regulations can make women more vulnerable to lower wages, limited access to health care, maternity leave or child care and workplace discrimination, including sexual assault.

In virtually every country, men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.

Globally, female labour force participation decreases 10-15 per cent with each additional child for women aged 25-39.

Women also tend to have less access to formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms. While 55 per cent of men report have an account at a formal financial institution, the figure is just 47 per cent for women .

Here, too, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are key – true economic empowerment and stability comes from ensuring that regulatory frameworks across both the formal and informal economies take into consideration women’s reproductive lives.

In the political realm gender norms limit women’s opportunities to participate in decision making. As a result, women’s domestic roles are over-emphasised, they have less time to engage in activities outside of the home. This then restricts their influence to informal decision making, which tends to be hidden, or not respected.

Hardly surprising, then, only 1 in 5 parliamentarians is female.

One reason for women’s low participation in public and political life is because party politics and strategic resources are dominated by men.

In addition, women also have to overcome barriers that men don’t, such as poor networking, limits on whether they can travel.

Women voters are four times as likely as men to be targeted for intimidation in elections in fragile states. After all, would you vote if you faced threats on your way to the polling station?

What this report shows is that gender inequality prevents girls and women from reaping benefits and contributing to social, economic and political life.

So what’s the answer? Truth be told, no single approach will work. We have to look at solutions that work for women’s varied and complex lives.

But there is something that we can change – something that goes to the very heart of poverty eradication and development goals. We can uphold sexual and reproductive rights.

Because if you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

It’s the freedom from which all other freedoms flow.

Women and girls should have the right and ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives and sexuality, free from violence, coercion and discrimination.

That’s what equality is all about.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Guatemala Praised for Policies on Adolescent Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/guatemala-praised-for-policies-on-adolescent-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guatemala-praised-for-policies-on-adolescent-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/guatemala-praised-for-policies-on-adolescent-girls/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 19:26:11 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139588 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

The government of Guatemala has been praised for a programme helping young women avoid unwanted pregnancies and finish their education.

On the opening day of the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday, Guatemala was held up as an example of how governments can develop frameworks to protect and promote the rights of young women.

Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, praised Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti for her government’s ‘PLANEA’ initiative, providing sexual education to adolescents.

“Young people can break away from the cycle of poverty and create a sustainable future, but first we have to invest in their health, sexual and reproductive health, education, and empower them going forward,” Osotimehin said.

“By helping girls stay in school, we prevent pregnancy, and give them greater autonomy and agency. This can be shared as good practice in Latin America and around the world.”

The ‘Abriendo Opportunidades’ (‘Opening Opportunities’) programme has reached over 6,000 girls. Around 97 percent of Abriendo girl leaders remained childless during the programme, compared with a national average of 78 percent. All participants completed sixth grade of schooling, compared with a national average of 82 percent.

UNFPA said child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are common among girls, especially indigenous Guatemalan girls, in poverty. Around 74 percent of indigenous girls live in poverty.

Baldetti, speaking through a translator, said rape – especially family rape – and adolescent pregnancy were far too common in Guatemala, and outlined changes to policies on young women since her government came to power in 2012.

Baldetti said she was the country’s first female vice president and had instituted a Specific Cabinet for Women – the only one of its type in Latin America, she claimed.

“Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death. This is not just a population issue, it is a development issue rooted in inequality, power imbalances, forced marriages, lack of education, and a failure of systems and institutions to protect them,” she said.

Baldetti explained how Guatemala now treats pregnancies of girls under the age of 14 as “rape crimes,” with a view to prosecuting the man responsible. Specific clinics to deal with such cases have been installed in over 40 locations nationwide.

“We collect the DNA of the person who raped them and collect evidence… in 48 hours, we know who owns that DNA and who aggressed this child,” she said.

Other programmes help young women with children of their own to access food and social assistance, as well as help the young woman back to school.

Guatemala and UNFPA also signed an agreement on ‘South-South Cooperation’ during the presentation, recognising Guatemala’s work and how it might be applied to other countries, especially in Latin America.

“Investing in young people, helping them realise their human rights and capabilities, is key to human development and sustainability. Guatemala is standing up to be counted, and providing this unique example to follow,” Osotimehin said.

“This is a part of the world we need to make progress rapidly. Adolescent girls must be the centre of that development.”

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Congolese Citizens Forced to Pay for Police, Protection Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 22:20:35 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139543 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are as dangerous and lawless as ever, with police and the state offering citizens little or no protection from armed groups.

‘Secure Insecurity,’ a report released Friday by Oxfam, claims citizens in some parts of the DRC are “forced to pay for protection that the state should be providing to its citizens as their right.”

The report says some police charge citizens for their services – US$5 to report a crime, US$10 or up to the equivalent of US$40 to investigate – but even when state protection is freely available, it is often ineffective.

“As a woman in her early thirties told Oxfam: ‘When I went to see the chief about a case of rape in our district, the chief told me that justice doesn’t concern women’,” the report stated.

Stories included in the report also claim the Congolese army and police regularly beat and assault citizens.

Oxfam says the report “reveals how little progress has been made towards building legitimate and credible state authority in many parts of eastern DRC, a disturbing conclusion.”

One woman from the Ruzizi Plain area of Uvira is quoted as saying “we don’t know where to turn, we just want some fresh air; we want peace.”

Oxfam claims “the world’s attention largely moved away from the [DRC]” in February 2013, after the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, in which the government promised to reform security services and build the state’s authority nationwide.

However, a series of renewed conflicts between rival army and militia groups since October 2014 have killed 250 people in the country’s east.

Militia groups have also demanded crops from farmers, set up illegal roadblocks and charged money for passage through, and extorted money from vendors returning from markets. State officials have also been accused of extortion, forced labour, and demanding payment for protection.

‘The population needs to live in peace and security in the areas that are under our [the government’s] control,” a police commander in North Kivu told Oxfam.

“We have deployed a police unit, but it’s too small to assure the security of the population on that hill.”

Conflicts over land, between different ethnic groups, has also led to “theft and slaughter of livestock, killings, kidnappings, destruction and expropriation of fields, preventing access to land and forced displacement.”

Oxfam urged the Congolese government to make the provision of state services in rural areas a priority, as well as reform security services, and ensure security and military salaries are paid.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Pagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:11:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139536 ‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.

Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India.

Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence.

Paul is herself a survivor of infanticide.

She told Women Deliver, “When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy.

“Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother – and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.”

Among others, Paul’s story on bonded labour in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad has had a tangible impact on the lives of those she interviewed.

In July she blogged about how one woman featured in the article ‘No Choice but to Work Without Pay‘, Sri Lakshmi, was released from bonded labour by her employer after a local citizen read the article on IPS and took action.

Lakshmi’s daughter Amlu, who once performed domestic labour while her parents went off to work, is now enrolled in a local elementary school.

Women’s issues aren’t ‘soft news’

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia.

Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work.

“For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom.

“One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a major obstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline.

“Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men.

Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

Online Vote

Readers have the opportunity to vote for their favourite journalists from the fifteen journalists selected by Women Deliver.

The three winners will receive scholarships to attend Women Deliver’s 2016 conference, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Voting is open until 20 March 2015.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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