Inter Press ServiceGender Violence – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:59:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Educating Children One Radio Wave at a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/educating-children-one-radio-wave-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=educating-children-one-radio-wave-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/educating-children-one-radio-wave-time/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 20:40:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151366 Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario. Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region. “Boko Haram […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It includes 44 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Progress on World Hunger Has Reversedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/progress-world-hunger-reversed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=progress-world-hunger-reversed http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/progress-world-hunger-reversed/#comments Mon, 03 Jul 2017 16:10:21 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151156 World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said a UN specialised agency. During its biennial conference held in Rome, Italy from 3-8 July, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that the world is facing it’s worst food crisis since World War II. “I wish I could announce here today some good news regarding […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2017 (IPS)

World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said a UN specialised agency.

During its biennial conference held in Rome, Italy from 3-8 July, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that the world is facing it’s worst food crisis since World War II.

World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said FAO: the world is facing its worst food crisis since World War II

Credit: FAO/Carlo Perla

“I wish I could announce here today some good news regarding the global fight against hunger…but, unfortunately, it is not the case,” said FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva to member states at the opening of the meeting.

FAO has identified 19 countries facing severe food crises due to a combination of conflict and climate change including South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen where nearly 20 million are affected.

Though South Sudan recently declared that it no longer has areas in famine, millions are still on the brink of starvation as violence and insecurity ensues.

In fact, almost 60 percent of hungry people around the world live in areas affected by conflicts and climate change. With no relief to be seen, many turn to migration, contributing to the doubling of global displacement, said Graziano da Silva.

The concerning trends comes just two years after the adoption the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals which includes targets to eradicate hunger by 2030.

“Strong political commitment to eradicate hunger is fundamental, but it is not enough. Hunger will only be defeated if countries translate their pledges into concrete action, especially at national and local levels,” said Graziano da Silva.

Though peace is important to end these crises, the international community cannot wait for peace in order to take action, he added.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni similarly called for “renewed and extraordinary efforts” during a keynote address, particularly pointing to the influx of migrants into the European Union (EU) country’s shores.

Italy is one of the major destinations for migrants who embark on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean sea. In the first six months of 2017, Italy has taken in over 82,000 migrants. In the past week alone, more than 10,000 migrants have been rescued from overcrowded, unstable boats by the country’s coastguard.

Overwhelmed by the numbers, the country has threatened to close their ports to rescue ships unless other EU countries share responsibility and help take in migrants.

However, responding to emergencies alone will not be sufficient.

“To save lives, we have to save their livelihoods. We cannot save people and put them in camps,” said Graziano da Silva.

FAO has highlighted the importance of work around climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable agricultural production, migration, and support of conflict-affected rural livelihoods among its key priorities.

“There is no peace without sustainable development, and there is no sustainable development without peace. Vulnerable people, rural people cannot be left behind…we have to build the conditions for them to thrive, for them to have hope, for them to exercise their human right to food,” Graziano da Silva concluded.

Around 1000 participants are expected to attend the 40th session of FAO’s conference, including a 176 member delegation. Participants will address pressing policy issues related to global food security and will review and vote on FAO Director-General’s proposed program of work and budget for 2018-2019.

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Sexual Violence Fuels Vicious Recruitment Cycle in Congolese Militiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 20:00:45 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150988 In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them. Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among […]

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While measures such as the Child Protection Code brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girl soldiers

Former soldiers who have returned to school successfully in Congo. Credit: Child Soldiers International

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them.

Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among these violent defensive militias in DRC, also known as Mai Mai, girls accounted for up to 40 percent of all underage soldiers.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, celebrated June 19 and commemorated three years ago by the UN, Child Soldiers International (CSI) released an important report outlining the aftermath of this violence.

“I left [to join the Mai Mai] after they raped my mother in front of all of us, even my father. I felt shame, pity, anger. One day I decided to take up arms to avenge my mother,” a former girl soldier, who is 19, explained.

Most of the girls, who were interviewed in early 2016, were abducted by groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), M23, and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

At a young age, the girls often endured sexual violence, which became a routine event.

“Sometimes I didn’t even know the name of the man who abused me at night,” said a 16-year-old girl. “I wanted to escape but saw what they did to those who tried… I was too scared.”

While measures such as the Child Protection Code of 2009 brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girls.

Things didn’t get much better at home. The girls were often shunned by their families, and blamed for their status as victims as of sexual assault.

“Not two days goes by without neighbours making us feel we have known men,” a 14-year-old girl said. “We are not allowed to associate with their daughters.”

Facing a lack of aid or counseling, many went back to the groups. They long to speak with their families, and go to school, the report says. Instead, they are turned away. This injures their psyche, and can lead to low self-esteem. More has to be done, Sandra Olsson, the programme manager at CSI, told IPS.

“Community reintegration and tackling the stigma and rejection these girls face needs to be at the centre of reintegration programmes for these girls. We hope that our research and recommendations will help the DRC government develop girl specific reintegration strategies,” she said.

The report, she told IPS, hopes to raise awareness, provide long term assistance to the girls, and finally, end sexual violence in conflicts.

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:37:22 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150908 In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her. Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives […]

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her.

Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives with their children, two boys aged 12 and 13.

Women’s organisations hold that there are dozens of similar situations in Argentina, where society is becoming more aware of cases of gender-based violence.“In most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.” -- Mabel Bianco

People have responded by taking to the streets: since 2015, an extraordinary social mobilisation, which has continued to this day, has installed the issue on the public agenda and forced politicians to address the phenomenon of the high rate of femicides, the term given murders of women for gender-based reasons.

The case of Rosana Galliano’s children was the main catalyst for a law passed by Congress on May 31, which strips parents who kill, injure or sexually abuse their partners of parental rights.

“We have received queries about a number of cases similar to that of Rosana Galliano’s children, which don’t make it to the media because the families of the murdered women don’t want to go public,” said Ada Rico, who heads La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based organisation that combats violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

“We submitted a draft law in 2014 aimed at removing parental responsibility from those who commit femicide,” she told IPS. “It was discussed together with seven similar drafts and a consensus was reached. It is a law that is likely to be copied by other countries.”

In the face of the lack of official statistics, La Casa del Encuentro began in 2008 to gather media reports on gender-based murders of women in this South American country of nearly 44 million people.

That same year these murders were officially defined as femicides, during a meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belem do Pará Convention, the Inter-American instrument signed in 1994 to prevent and punish violence against women.

 Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS


Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

The Argentine Congress followed suit in 2012, stipulating life in prison for men guilty of murders involving gender-based violence.

Up to then, murders resulting from domestic violence were treated as manslaughter, punishable with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

However, this change did not lead to a decline in violence against women in this country. La Casa del Encuentro’s figures show that femicides have remained fairly stable, at a high level: 255 in 2012, 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014, 286 in 2015 and 290 last year.
Among the hundreds of cases, one completely changed life in the town of Rufino, in the province of Santa Fe, and shook the entire country.

Chiara Páez, a 14-year-old girl, disappeared one Sunday in May 2015.

A large part of the town’s 20,000 people went out to search for her. But eventually the police found her body buried at the house of her boyfriend’s grandparents. Her 16-year-old boyfriend confessed that he had beat her to death. The autopsy revealed that Chiara was pregnant and that she had taken medication to have an abortion.

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Buenos Aires and other large cities to demand a stop to male violence against women. “Not one less” (“Ni una menos”) was the slogan devised by a group of feminist activists and journalists, which was taken up immediately by a good part of Argentine society.

Since then, huge “Not one less” marches have become an annual event. The last one was held on Jun. 3 on the Avenida de Mayo avenue, and one of the main speakers was Nora Cortiñas, renowned leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The pamphlet handed out at the demonstration noted that many women are murdered after reporting that they are victims of domestic violence, which makes the government responsible for their protection and their deaths, “as much as the murderers.”

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

They also demanded an end to discrimination against women in the labour market, and called for legal, safe, free of charge abortion.

“Violence against women will not rapidly decline since it is mainly linked to cultural factors very marked in society, such as the greater value put on men in all fields,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, the head of the Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research, told IPS.

“We are still lacking answers from the government. A protocol that unifies the steps to be followed nationwide in the face of complaints of gender-based violence must be designed,” she said.

She said that “in most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.”

One of the results of the social mobilisation was the start of official record-keeping on femicides in 2015. The Supreme Court keeps these figures, and in late May it presented the statistics from 2016: 254 women were murdered for gender-based reasons, 19 more than in 2015.

In this year’s report, the Court for the first time differentiated between “biological females” and trans women, who were the victims of five of the femicides last year.

Meanwhile, Congress did not stop with the parental responsibility law. The same day it was passed, the Senate gave preliminary approval to two other bills focused on gender-based violence.

One of them establishes financial support by the state for women who cannot afford to leave their abusive partners. The other one implements a subsidy for the families who raise children whose mothers have been victims of femicides. The two draft laws are now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

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Women, Still Major Victims of Sharp Disparities at Workplaceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/women-still-major-victims-sharp-disparities-workplaces/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-major-victims-sharp-disparities-workplaces http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/women-still-major-victims-sharp-disparities-workplaces/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:37:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150905 Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues, according to a United Nations report, ahead of the UN Labour Organization’s Summit on “A better future for women at work” on June 15. The new report released by the […]

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Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues

The ILO encourages decent employment opportunities. Credit: ILO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues, according to a United Nations report, ahead of the UN Labour Organization’s Summit on “A better future for women at work” on June 15.

The new report released by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) informs that even though women are significantly less likely to participate in the labour market than men, once they manage to enter the labour market, finding work remains even more difficult for them their male counterparts.

Helping women access the labour market is nevertheless an important first step,” said ILO, noting that in 2017, the global labour force participation rate for women –at just over 49 per cent– is nearly 27 percentage points lower than for men.

This figure is forecast to remain unchanged in 2018.

ILO on June 15 held a Summit on “A better future for women at work” in Geneva to discuss how to shape a better future for women at work.

Further recalling the commitment expressed by leaders of the Group of the 20 most industrialised countries (G20) in 2014, to reduce the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by the year 2025, the ILO report World Employment and Social Outlook Trends for Women 2017, estimates that some 5.8 trillion dollars could be added to the world economy.

Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues

A woman walks to work in Singapore. Credit: ILO/Giorgio Taraschi

“This could also unlock large potential tax revenues, in particular in countries in the North Africa, Arab and Southern Asia regions.”

In addition to the significant economic benefits, engaging more women in the world of work would have a positive impact on their well-being since most women would like to work.

“The fact that half of women worldwide are out of the labour force when 58 per cent of them would prefer to work at paid jobs is a strong indication that there are significant challenges restricting their capabilities and freedom to participate,” said Deborah Greenfield, the ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy.

“The most immediate concern for policy makers, therefore, should be to alleviate the constraints that women face in choosing to enter the labour market and address the barriers they are confronted with once they are in the workplace,” she added.

Attitudes on Women and Men ‘Roles’ Have to Change

Furthermore, the ILO report also highlights the need to “redefine the roles” of men and women at the workplace.

“We need to start by changing our attitudes towards the role of women in the world of work and in society. Far too often some members of society still fall back on the excuse that it is ‘unacceptable’ for a woman to have a paid job,” said Steven Tobin, the lead author of the report.

The report also emphasises the need to promote equal pay for work of equal value; tackle root causes of occupational and sectoral segregation; recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work; as well as transforming institutions to prevent and eliminate discrimination, violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work.

Policies should also address the socio-economic factors that influence participation by introducing policies that improve work-family balance, create and protect quality jobs in the care economy and target the macroeconomic environment and informal economy, according to Tobin.

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Global Coalition Calls for Withdrawal of SDGs Progress Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-coalition-calls-for-withdrawal-of-sdgs-progress-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-coalition-calls-for-withdrawal-of-sdgs-progress-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-coalition-calls-for-withdrawal-of-sdgs-progress-report/#respond Wed, 14 Jun 2017 12:32:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150882 A report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fails to capture the the true picture of water challenges and the UN must withdraw it, said a global civil society coalition. The civil society coalition End Water Poverty (EWP) criticised the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the globally agreed SDGs, stating that it lacks understanding and […]

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Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2017 (IPS)

A report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fails to capture the the true picture of water challenges and the UN must withdraw it, said a global civil society coalition.

The civil society coalition End Water Poverty (EWP) criticised the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the globally agreed SDGs, stating that it lacks understanding and analysis of goal 6, which aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

“Such reports should not be done in haste…they must report based on agreed indicators not outdated ones,” said EWP’s International Campaign Coordinator Al-hassan Adam, noting that the terminology and measures used in report reflect the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) rather than the SDGs which are “poles apart.”

The report, which was recently submitted to the General Assembly, states that over 90 percent of the world’s population used improved drinking water sources in 2015 while over two-thirds of the world’s population used improved sanitation facilities.

However, improved water supply does not indicate whether water and sanitation is directly accessible and safely managed, current measures of progress for the SDGs.

Currently, if a young girl has to travel 30 minutes to and from to fetch water, putting her at risk of sexual assault and increasing the likelihood of poor school participation and attendance due to exhaustion from traveling back and forth for water, water supply is considered improved.

However, the SDGs should have transformed this scenario as progress is calculated based on water supply that is within a household and available for 24 hours.

“But in 2017, a report takes into consideration the 30 minutes this young girl has to travel to fetch water and views is as progress. This is not considered progress under the initial agreement and in the eyes of the young girl, nothing has changed,” Adam told IPS.

“At a time where we have set global goals for positive changes, we must not go backwards, but only forward,” he continued.

The measure of improved water supply also fails to assess water quality, including whether it is free from fecal or chemical contamination.

The report also notes progress in the implementation of national water management plans in 2012 as well as procedures to engage local communities in numerous countries. What is not included, however, is the quality and level of such plans and participation.

EWP noted that such language has negative global implications as it allows governments to neglect the provision of adequate services to their citizens.

“In December 2015, we all celebrated when the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda were agreed, for the people and the planet…unfortunately, the latest progress report shows that we might be sleep-walking into 2030 without any substantial gains made,” they stated.

The coalition urged the UN to withdraw the current report and to amend its content with accurate data and indicators on the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation as agreed upon in the SDGs.

“To reach the Sustainable Development Goals, we cannot continue to do business as usual. The UN should direct us all towards the right path through accurate reporting on the progress and failures of the SDGs” Adam concluded.

EWP is a coalition of water, sanitation, and hygiene organisations from around the world including Action Against Hunger, Care International, and Oxfam.

According to the UN, global demand for fresh water is predicted to grow by more than 40 percent by 2050 and at least a quarter of the world’s population will live in countries with a chronic or recurrent lack of clean water.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the consequences of growing water shortages around the world, telling the Security Council: “Water, peace, and security are inextricably linked. Without effective management of our water resources, we risk intensified disputes between communities and sectors and increased tensions among nations.”

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The “Shocking” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S.http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 16:44:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150823 While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States. Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States.

Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained legal.

“These are old laws that were just never changed because people didn’t realize this was happening,” said Fraidy Reiss, the Executive Director of Unchained at Last, an organization fighting to end child marriage in the U.S.

Based on available data, Unchained at Last estimates that over quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Data shows girls as young as 12 years old married in states like Alaska, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The Tahirih Justice Center, which helps protect women and girls from gender-based violence, found that Texas has the second highest rates of child marriages in the nation, as nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 were married between 2000 and 2014.

The majority of those wedded at a young age are girls, and approximately 77 percent of U.S. children who were wed were married to adult men, often with significant age differences.

Such cases often cut across various religions, ethnic backgrounds, and circumstances, from one 15-year-old whose Muslim family forced her to marry a 23-year-old man because she was found dating someone of a different background in Nevada to a girl’s Christian community in Colorado pressuring her to get married because she was pregnant.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking,” Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division Heather Barr told IPS, noting that child marriage is an issue on every continent with similar consequences.

“The harm that happens to a child that gets married in New York state is not that different from the harm that happens to a child getting married in the Central African Republic,” she said.

Child marriage is strongly linked to high rates of school dropouts and poverty, and those married before the age of 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than those married at 21 or older.

Women and girls married at a young age also often experience physical and mental health problems, including higher rates of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections.

Reiss told IPS how forced marriage takes a toll on the mental health of girls as many turn to suicide. Others just give up and continue with the marriage because of the lack of options.

“They know that going along with a marriage means that they are going to be raped on their wedding night and raped thereafter, they are going to pulled out of school—all their dreams for their future are gone,” she said.

Though the minimum age is 18, most states allow those younger than 18 to marry with parental or judicial consent. However, both Reiss and Barr told IPS that such ideas of consent are problematic and “ridiculous.”

“Child marriages are very often arranged or forced by parents, so in a situation where it is actually the parents who are forcing a child to get married, parental consent is completely meaningless,” said Barr.

As for judicial consent, the law does not specify any criteria that a judge is required to consider before approving a marriage.

In 27 states, laws do not specify any age below which a child cannot marry.

“The minimum age for marriage is effectively lowered to zero,” said Reiss.

There has been a push in recent years to end child marriage domestically.

In May, Texas’ legislature passed a bill that identifies 18 as the legal age to marriage. Though it allows those younger than 18 to marry, they can only do so if a judge has found that they live on their own and are no longer dependent on guardians to support themselves. It is currently awaiting signature from the state’s governor Greg Abbott in order to go into full effect.

In New York, the Senate passed a bill on child marriage which must now be approved by the state’s Assembly. The bill, which is expected to pass, raises the minimum marriage age from 14 to 17.

While Barr was hopeful that it will pass, Reiss criticised the bill noting that 17-year-olds are still children.

“This notion of allowing 17-year-olds to marry because legislators assuming that it is somehow less reprehensible than a 7-year-old getting married—it’s not,” she told IPS.

Such issues with legislatures are also happening elsewhere as states continue to push back on ending child marriage.

In March, New Hampshire rejected a bill to increase the age of marriage to 18 on the grounds that it would hurt pregnant teenagers and young military members, leaving the minimum age at 13.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that banned marriage under the age of 18 on the ground that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.”

Both Reiss and Barr condemned the move, noting that child marriage has nothing to do with religion.

“This isn’t an issue about tradition, it’s an issue about human rights,” Barr told IPS.

She added that it is hypocritical that the U.S. as a donor nation criticises other countries when they themselves have weak protections against child marriage.

“It really undermines their credibility…we think that reform on this issue in the U.S. and other countries in the West that are donor countries can help support the global effort as well,” Barr said.

In 2016, The U.S Department of State called child marriage a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” Reiss added, highlighting the urgency for states to end child marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, 1.5 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. If such trends continue, the number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.

Among the targets of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to eliminate all harmful practices including child, early, and forced marriage.

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The Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 05:18:46 +0000 Stephen O Brien http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150668 Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

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Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

By Stephen O’Brien*
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The cruel conflict in Syria continues to tear families apart, inflicts brutal suffering on the innocent, and leaves them pleading for protection and justice. I readily acknowledge that there have been reports of a significant drop in violence in some areas of the country, but such steps forward continue to be counter-weighted by the reality of a conflict that continues to devastate the civilian population.

Stephen O’Brien

Stephen O’Brien

Just last week, 30 children and women were gravely injured in a heinous attack by ISIL on besieged neighbourhoods in Deir ez-Zor as they were lining up for water. In addition, more than a hundred civilians, many of them women and children, have fallen victim, in recent weeks, to the escalating counter-ISIL airstrikes, particularly in the north-eastern governorates of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

Millions more are in the line of fire, facing crushing poverty and alarming physical danger. Tens of thousands of children have been killed, and for those who have survived till today, the outlook remains bleak. Children have been forcibly detained, they have been tortured, subjected to sexual violence, forcibly recruited and in some cases executed.

Close to seven million children in Syria live in poverty. Nearly 1.75 million children remain out of school and another 1.35 million are at risk of dropping out. 7,400 schools – one in three across the country – have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise made inaccessible. And even if the schools were intact, many would be unable to open, with almost one quarter of the country’s teaching personnel no longer at their posts.

Outside Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children are left to face an uncertain and traumatic future on their own; they have become stateless, abandoned by the world but for the generosity of neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, as well as Egypt.

How are these children meant to function as adults? What future do these children have – illiterate, orphaned, starved, traumatized and maimed? What future does a country have when its next generation is a lost generation? For these suffering children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their lives and their futures. It is their innocent voices, their suffering that need advocating.

Astana produced a promising step: a memorandum between the three guarantors – Iran, Russia and Turkey – on the creation of four de-escalation areas; a memorandum that stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that fighting must significantly decrease and unhindered humanitarian access be enabled to these four areas – areas which essentially encompass all of the besieged locations except for those in Damascus and Deir ez-Zor.

That said, too many agreements that could have saved lives and reduced suffering have failed in the past. Let me therefore be clear: this agreement simply has to succeed. We owe it to the 2.6 million people that we estimate to be in these four de-escalation areas.

We – the United Nations – stand ready to sit with all parties involved to make it a workable agreement – one that will make a tangible difference to civilians on the ground; one that facilitates the delivery of life-saving assistance based on the UN’s own needs assessments without constant interference, reduced beneficiary numbers, the removal of medical and other essential items out of spite, bureaucratic restrictions and procedural and physical roadblocks.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that – all over Syria – millions of people, in locations inside and outside the four de-escalation areas, continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives. We must not stand silent while violence flares up elsewhere in the country and parties continue to use starvation, fear tactics and the denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as methods of war.

As you all know, in recent months, restricted access and increased attacks resulted in a number of so-called ‘surrender’ or ‘evacuation’ agreements in communities such as Al-Tal, Darraya, Moadamiyeh, Eastern Aleppo, Khan al-Shieh, Wadi Barada, and the four towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya. In the last few weeks, thousands more have been moved from the besieged neighbourhoods of Barzeh and Qaboun (Damascus) and the besieged Al Wa’er neighbourhood in Homs city to Idlib and Jarablus city in rural Aleppo.

These are evacuations that have followed years of intense airstrikes, shelling and sniping. The tactics are all too obvious: make life intolerable and make death likely; push people to choose between starvation and death or fleeing on green buses to locations that are just as unsafe.

There needs to be accountability for these actions; for these ‘starve and surrender tactics’ – a monstrous form of cruelty to impose upon a civilian population. We have seen this happen numerous times already – as I said, in Homs, Moadamiyeh, Al Waer, and elsewhere. In fact, Darayya and Zabadani are already devoid of their civilian population. And this may very well be the fate of hundreds of thousands more people still trapped in besieged locations across the country.

Evacuations are, however, only the beginning of a new set of challenges for both those who are forced to leave their homes, and host communities. Traveling mostly to Idleb and northern rural Aleppo, those displaced now find themselves in an increasingly precarious environment. The capacity in these areas to support additional displacement is reaching its limit.

In Idleb alone, there are over 900,000 displaced people, placing significant strain on local communities and resources. While the situation has quietened since the memorandum on de-escalation was signed, any increase in fighting – attacks by the Government of Syria, or fighting among groups inside of Idelb – would be catastrophic for these already stressed communities.

In fact, in many corners of the country, the protection space is shrinking, humanitarian conditions are worsening, and the level of despair is rising – not due to insecurity or poor infrastructure, but by increasingly strict limitations by local authorities, non-State armed groups, as well as terrorist organizations, and the actions of some neighbouring countries.

I call on members of the Security Council to use their influence to see that these actors respect humanitarian principles and allow the unfettered delivery of aid. We are also greatly concerned at cross-border restrictions and regulatory impediments imposed on the NGO community operating in northern Syria and are troubled by increasing reports indicating that IDPs fleeing Raqqa Governorate are being kept for prolonged periods in screening camps and subjected to restrictions on their movement by the self-proclaimed Democratic Self-Administration in northeastern Syria.

We need to see a step-change in access to the increasingly dire situation in northeastern Syria. Rather than restrictions, we need an opening of space to respond. With some 100,000 people displaced due to fighting around Raqqa since April, access is needed now through every possible modality.

We need to see restrictions eased for those operating in the area. We need to see increased cross-border and cross-line access for humanitarian assistance into the area, including land access from Aleppo. I call on all with influence over the parties involved to act now. Further delays or restrictions will only result in the continued suffering and the death of civilians.

For cross-line inter-agency convoys, administrative delays on the part of the Syrian Government in the approval of facilitation letters and convoy plans continue to hamper our efforts. Every month, thousands of facilitation letters are readily signed for convoys headed to Government-controlled areas.

Yet, in cross-line areas, we have only been able to secure facilitation letters for seven convoys under the April/May access plan, allowing us to reach 266,750 people in need. This is out of a million people requested under the bi-monthly plan. And as a result, we are essentially down to one cross-line convoy per week to reach those who are most in need, with only one besieged location – namely Duma in eastern Ghouta – reached by road during the April/May period.

Compared to last year, when we deployed 50 cross-line convoys through May, today we stand at 18 cross-line convoys in 2017. In addition, the ICRC and the SARC also delivered three cross-line convoys without the UN, reaching 136,500 people in hard-to-reach areas during this period as well.

Moreover, the removal of life-saving medicines and medical supplies such as surgical kits, midwifery kits, and emergency kits has continued unabated, with nearly 100,000 medical supplies refused or removed from convoys since the beginning of the year. In addition, and as you all know, attacks on hospitals and other health facilities – as highlighted by the Secretary-General in the open debate last week on the Protection of Civilians – have become commonplace in Syria – about 20 per month between January and April this year, an average of one attack every 36 hours, turning Syrian hospitals into death traps.

These attacks and restrictions are not only violations of international law and Council resolutions, they are deliberate and cowardly acts aimed at those – the sick, the injured, the infirm, unborn children, the elderly, pregnant women, young children – who are least able to protect themselves and are most in need of care and assistance.

The denial and delay of access, particularly to those in besieged locations, is a political calculation and a military tactic; this much is clear in Syria. We may speak about the practical elements of delay and denial – facilitation letters, inspections, checkpoints – but these are simply the manifestation of a mindset and approach by the Government of Syria to use civilian suffering as a tactic of war.

We have seen that when political will exists, the humanitarian imperative to deliver based on assessed need is possible. Facilitation letters are signed, inspectors do not remove items, and checkpoints allow safe passage. I call on the Security Council to take all necessary steps to see that the will to place humanitarian aid delivery in its rightful position – outside of any military or political calculations and totally impartially – is restored.

The delivery of aid is not an ask, but is a demand and the law and its denial, refusal or frustration is and must be a red line not to be crossed. Denial and delays of assistance contravene resolutions of the Council and are against international humanitarian law. They must end. I call on this Council to act to see its resolutions implemented. Any prevarication will result in further death and suffering of civilians. Humanitarian relief cannot be viewed as an optional element to be occasionally provided. It must go where it is needed, when it is needed, not where it is allowed and when it is convenient.

As I have said numerous times before, we remain committed and ready to deliver aid – through all possible modalities – for people in desperate need, whoever and wherever they are. However, the bottom line is that the real extent of progress cannot be measured by ad hoc deliveries to besieged communities – once or twice, every so often.

The bottom line is that we have been wasting too much of our time literally begging for facilitation letters; too much time arguing at roadblocks, pleading that trucks can pass without the sniper taking the shot and medical items not be removed.

I do not come here today to seek favours. But let me say this. Calling for humanitarian actors to be allowed sustained access to all people in need throughout Syria is not a favour. Calling for an end to the removal of medical items off of convoys is not a favour. Calling for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure by all parties to the conflict is not a favour.

Seeking to prevent children from being buried under piles of rubble, in their basements, in their schools, is not a favour. Medicine for the sick and food for the starving are not favours. These are the common precepts, the bedrock, of our shared humanity and the foundations of international humanitarian law, and they must be an unflinching call to the fundamental decency of all people. I call on all those with influence over the parties to reinforce this message and act.

In closing, let me send my very best wishes to everyone observing the holy month of Ramadan. For Muslims in Syria, in the region and across the world it is a time for charity, for contemplation and community; a time for peace and forgiveness. Let us all sincerely hope for an end of violence for this period and beyond.

Let us all sincerely work towards achieving the objectives of the Astana memorandum, so that attacks and bureaucratic impositions are put to an end – once and for all – and the UN and its humanitarian partners can sustainably reach those hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind the current front lines.

(* From a statement before the UN Security Council on 30 May 2017)

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Truth or Delusion?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/truth-or-delusion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=truth-or-delusion http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/truth-or-delusion/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 07:11:22 +0000 Robert Burrowes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150538 The author has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?'

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Toddler in fright (looks just as if, but it is by chance; photo with symbolic impact). Credit: ηeonZERO. public domain.

By Robert J. Burrowes
DAYLESFORD, Australia, May 23 2017 (IPS)

One inevitable outcome of the phenomenal violence we all suffer as children is that most of us live in a state of delusion throughout our lives.

This makes it extraordinarily difficult for accurate information, including vital information about the endangered state of our world and how to respond appropriately, to penetrate the typical human mind.

‘Phenomenal violence?’ you might ask. ‘All of us?’ you wonder. Yes, although, tragically, most of this violence goes unrecognised because it is not usually identified as such.

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes

For most people, it is a straightforward task to identify the ‘visible’ violence that they have suffered and, perhaps, still suffer.

However, virtually no-one is able to identify the profoundly more damaging impact of the ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence that is inflicted on us mercilessly from the day we are born.

So what is this ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence?.

‘Invisible’ violence is the ‘little things’ that adults do to children every day, partly because they are just ‘too busy’. For example, when adults do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal communication system.

When adults do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).

When adults blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, they both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others).

However, parents, teachers, religious figures and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. In brief, this means that the child now lives in a state of delusion.

And because this state was caused by terrorizing the child, the child is unable to perceive the series of delusions in which they now live.

Moreover, unless the child (or, later, adult) consciously feels their fear and terror, it will be extraordinarily difficult for them to perceive anything beyond the delusions that they acquired during childhood.

This is simply because the various elements of the child’s delusional state (the ‘values’, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, biases) were the ones approved by the key adults – parents, teachers, religious figures – in the child’s life.

Needless to say, living in a delusional state has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for nature because the individual will now behave on the basis of their delusions rather than in response to an accurate assessment of all available information through appropriate sensory, emotional, intellectual and conscientious scrutiny. For a full explanation of this process, see ‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

In essence then, the typical human being lives in a delusional state and this state is held in place by enormous, but unconscious, terror: the unfelt and hence unreleased childhood terror of being endlessly threatened and punished (for not complying with parental or other adult ‘authority’ throughout childhood).

And if you have ever tried to persuade someone, by argument of an intellectual nature, that a belief they hold is inaccurate and wondered why you couldn’t get anywhere, it is because you have run into their unconscious terror. And sheer terror beats the best argument in the world ‘hands down’.

So when you listen to people like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, or ponder those politicians and military generals who conduct endless wars, or watch those people on the street protesting against Muslims and refugees, or watch police beating up another indigenous or black person, or hear someone else deny the climate science, remember that you are witness to a person or people living in a terrified and delusional state that prevents them from perceiving and responding intelligently to reality.

And that, in the case of political and corporate leaders, they only have the support to do what they do because a great many other delusional individuals (including voters and employees) enable them.

Equally importantly, however, it is also necessary to recognise that a delusional state afflicts many of those we like to regard as ‘on our side’. It is just that their delusions work differently, perhaps, for example, by making them believe that only token ‘make it up as you go along’ responses (rather than comprehensive strategies) are necessary if we are to work our way out of the multifaceted crisis in which human society now finds itself.

This is why many ‘leaders’ of liberation struggles as well as activist movements concerned with ending war(s) and the climate catastrophe, for example, are so unable to articulate appropriately visionary and functional strategies. But the problem afflicts many other ‘progressive’ social movements as well, which limp along making only occasional or marginal impact, if they have any impact at all.

So what are we to do? Well, the most important thing you can do is to never consciously participate in a delusion, whether your own or that of anyone else. I say ‘consciously’ of course because unless you identify the delusion, you will not be able to avoid participating in it.

And there are probably few humans in history who have avoided all of the delusions their culture threw at them. If they did, they were probably outcast or killed. Christ, Gandhi and King are reasonably good examples of people in this latter category.

But, historically speaking, many activists have been killed for refusing to participate in elite-promoted delusions. And many others have been marginalised, one way or another, depending on the culture.

The value of not participating in a delusion, whether someone’s personal delusion or a widespread social one, arises from the impact you have on those around you: some of these people will have the courage to reflect on your behaviour and reconsider their own.

If you believe you are relatively free of delusion and are committed to taking serious steps to tackle one or more aspects of our multifaceted global crisis, then you are welcome to consider making ‘My Promise to Children‘, and to consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘, signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ and/or considering using the strategic framework on one or the other of these two websites for your campaign or liberation struggle: Nonviolent Campaign Strategy and Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy.

Living the truth on a daily basis is a tough road. And it will never come without cost. But living in the comfort of delusion, rather than taking action, is the path of cowards.

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Sexual Violence as a “Threat to Security and Durable Peace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 13:16:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150441 Sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism and thus must be addressed as a peace and security issue, officials said at a United Nations Security Council meeting. UN officials, member states, and civil society representatives came together during a Security Council debate to discuss the pervasive issues, challenges, and solutions surrounding conflict-related […]

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Mina Jaf, Founder and Executive Director of Women's Refugee Route.
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 17 2017 (IPS)

Sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism and thus must be addressed as a peace and security issue, officials said at a United Nations Security Council meeting.

UN officials, member states, and civil society representatives came together during a Security Council debate to discuss the pervasive issues, challenges, and solutions surrounding conflict-related sexual violence.

“Too many women live with a spectre of violence in their daily lives, in their households, and families. Armed conflict only serves to exacerbate these prevailing conditions,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, adding that such sexual violence is a “heart-wrenching crime.”

Executive Director of Women’s Refugee Route Mina Jaf echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “[Women] are much more vulnerable in conflict countries…and when you are more vulnerable, you face more violence.”

The secretary-general shed light on the issue in an annual report detailing numerous cases of sexual violence used for “strategic” purposes in 19 countries.

In Iraq, nearly 2,000 Yazidi women and girls remain enslaved in Islamic State (IS) territories and reports have emerged of the sale and trade of women as well as the use of women as human shields by IS during operations in Mosul, according to the report.

In Myanmar, over half of the women interviewed by the UN’s Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said they experienced some form of sexual violence which may have been employed systematically “to humiliate and terrorise their community.”

Displaced women and girls are at heightened risk, Mohammed and Jaf said, as approximately one in five refugees or displaced women experience some form of sexual violence.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented almost 600 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence in the country in 2016 alone, largely affecting displaced women and girls. The survivors included 57 girls, several of whom were below 10 years of age. Most of the cases occurred at Sudan People’s Liberation Army checkpoints near designated protection sites and reports indicate that sexual violence is being used to punish communities for their ethnic background or perceived support for opposition groups.

Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Adama Dieng reminded attendees that there is a face and name behind every number in the report.

He told the stories of Nasima who, in fear of being killed by her relatives after returning from IS captivity, attempted suicide, and Marie who contracted HIV because she was too ashamed to report her rape and receive preventive care.

Such shame and stigma are integral components of the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, the report notes.

“Aggressors understand that this type of crime can turn victims into outcasts, thus unravelling the family and kinship ties that hold communities together,” the report states. For instance, children who are born of rape may face a life of marginalization and be susceptible to exploitation and recruitment, preventing long-term recovery.

“Stigma kills,” Dieng added.

Mohammed highlighted that holistic reintegration is “imperative.”

“It is not enough to bring back our girls—we must bring them back with dignity and respect to an environment of support, equality, and opportunity and ensure that they are provided…critical assistance that helps them reintegrate back into their homes and societies,” she stated, referencing the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls which began after 270 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram.

Dieng noted the importance of redirecting the stigma of sexual violence from the victim to the perpetrator which is only possible by involving community leaders to shift harmful perceptions of gender and shame. He also pointed to the need to recognize survivors as legitimate victims of conflict and terrorism who are entitled to relief, reparation, and justice.

“When victims have a chance to tell their stories, to observe the sentencing of offenders, and to benefit from solidarity and support including material and symbolic reparations, it can counteract isolation and self-blame. It tells the community that what happened was not the victims’ fault,” Dieng stated.

Some countries have begun to address sexual violence through legislation including Colombia which established a framework providing sexual violence survivors with access to justice. However, just 2 per cent of the 634 documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence have resulted in convictions, a trend seen around the world.

Mohammed noted the positive developments in perceptions of sexual violence, stating, “Sexual violence in conflict is no longer seen as merely a women’s issue or a lesser evil in a false hierarchy of human rights violations. Instead, it is rightly viewed as a legitimate threat to security and durable peace that requires an operational security and justice response.”

She also acknowledged the UN’s own mishaps in responding to sexual abuse allegations by peacekeeping forces but vowed to tackle the challenge and make zero tolerance “a reality.”

In 2015, cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic sparked global outrage, while a Swedish investigative team found that the UN continues to neglect survivors.

Jaf told IPS that without accountability and justice, including in the case of peacekeepers, the issue of conflict-related sexual violence will not be resolved.

She added that humanitarian responders must be trained to cope with such sensitive issues, recounting the case of a woman who did not report a sexual assault due to her discomfort in speaking to a male translator, and gender equality must continue to be promoted.

“Sexual violence in conflict does not happen in a vacuum. This is the result of systematic failure by the international community to address the root causes of conflict, gender inequality and impunity,” Jaf stated.

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Concerns Arise Over Freed Nigerian Abductees, Thousands Still Missinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/concerns-arise-over-freed-nigerian-abductees-thousands-still-missing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concerns-arise-over-freed-nigerian-abductees-thousands-still-missing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/concerns-arise-over-freed-nigerian-abductees-thousands-still-missing/#respond Wed, 10 May 2017 16:12:07 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150371 Following the release of over 80 missing schoolgirls, human rights groups have expressed concerns about their rights and future. After a series of negotiations, the Government of Nigeria recently struck a deal allowing for the release of 82 girls from Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno state in exchange for five Boko Haram leaders. Though a positive […]

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Gathering at the country's capital of Abuja, Nigerians call on the government to act quickly to find the 276 girls kidnapped from a Chibok school. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 10 2017 (IPS)

Following the release of over 80 missing schoolgirls, human rights groups have expressed concerns about their rights and future.

After a series of negotiations, the Government of Nigeria recently struck a deal allowing for the release of 82 girls from Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno state in exchange for five Boko Haram leaders.

Though a positive development, the news was met with cautious optimism by international groups.

“The release of 82 of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls by the armed group Boko Haram is a big relief. However, it is vital now that they receive adequate physical and psychosocial counselling and support so that they can fully reintegrate in their communities,” said Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director Osai Ojigho.

In April 2014, 276 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram, sparking international outrage and the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.

To date, 161 out of the 276 girls have been released or escaped.

Soon after the newest release, the West African nation’s government publicised the girls’ names to outlets including Twitter.

Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher on Nigeria Mausi Segun criticised the move, calling it a “dismal failure” to protect the girls’ privacy.

“We can’t imagine the kinds of abuses they might have been exposed to. We were hoping the focus would be on their reintegration and their return to their families or to any kind of normalcy… but releasing their names in the way that the government has done, I think they paid very little attention to the rights and the needs of the girls,” Segun told IPS.

While such information was divulged to the media, she added that the girls’ families were left in the dark as they did not have access to any information or list of names. “I think that it’s shameful,” she continued.

Segun also expressed concern over the legal status of the girls.

In a similar deal between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram, 21 girls were released in October 2016. However, the girls have still not been allowed to return to their families and communities.

Though the government has claimed that it is providing education and services to the girls, “a jail is a jail,” Segun told IPS.

“They have no freedom to leave. They have a right to their liberty, and there is a legal obligation on the government to give reasons for holding them.… We are concerned that the same treatment awaits the recently released 82 girls as well,” she continued.

Ojigho expressed similar sentiments, urging the government to ensure the privacy of the released girls and that they are not kept in lengthy detention and security screening which may “add to their suffering and plight.”

Segun highlighted the need for families to have access to information and their own children. But it is not just these girls that deserve such access and attention, she said.

“Virtually everyone who has been affected by the conflict has a son, a daughter, a father, a mother missing whose fate they have no information about,” Segun told IPS.

Though it is uncertain how many have been kidnapped, Amnesty International has documented at least 41 cases of mass abductions by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2014. Many abductees are subject to abuses including rape, beatings, and forced suicide missions.

In a recent report by the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict in Nigeria, the UN verified the use of 90 children, mostly girls, for suicide bombings in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. They were also able to verify cases of sexual violence affecting 217 children between 2013 and 2016, but estimate that thousands of women and girls may be victims.

“Boko Haram has inflicted unspeakable horror upon the children of Nigeria’s north-east and neighbouring countries,“ said Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba.

Human Rights Watch also found insufficient government action towards solving such cases. In November 2014, over 500 children were abducted from the Borno town of Damasak. The human rights group found that residents have received no response from the government and that Nigerian authorities have neither publicly acknowledged the Damasak abductions nor disclosed efforts to recover the missing children.

“The government has failed to reach out to them, perhaps because they do not have high level media attention as the Chibok abduction has,” Segun said, stressing the need to widen the scope of negotiations to include the thousands missing beyond Chibok’s schoolgirls.

The UN announced that they are on standby to provide comprehensive support to the survivors, including emergency reproductive health care and psychosocial counseling. The UN’s Children Agency (UNICEF) also vowed to help the girls reunite with their families and continue their education in a safe environment.

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Trolling of Women Journalists Threatens Free Presshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/trolling-of-women-journalists-threatens-free-press/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trolling-of-women-journalists-threatens-free-press http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/trolling-of-women-journalists-threatens-free-press/#respond Mon, 01 May 2017 23:16:23 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150244 “It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it,” says Mary Beard, a Cambridge University classics professor about online trolling. “If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients.” Women […]

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Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger known as a courageous advocate for free expression and secularism, received death and rape threats. Credit: Center for Inquiry

Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger known as a courageous advocate for free expression and secularism, received death and rape threats. Credit: Center for Inquiry

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, May 1 2017 (IPS)

“It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it,” says Mary Beard, a Cambridge University classics professor about online trolling. “If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients.”

Women professionals in many countries across Asia and the Pacific have increased their number in the newsrooms, according to a study, but they still represent only three out of ten news staff. Even with this low representation, they have now breezed into the male bastion of hard stories, among them politics, corruption, conflict, governance, environment with confidence and impact.“Shaming and harming women is an age-old practice, except that real time information sharing through technology makes the outreach far greater and the damage huge.” --Dilrukshi Handunnetti

They speak their mind, put forth their opinion and debate knowledgeably and vigorously with readers on matters of import on social media platforms.

Societal images of women have remained largely conservative.

Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger, received death and rape threats and an email from an Islamic extremist group that claimed the killing of  six Bangladeshi bloggers which said,  “Since the Islamic  Sharia (law) views working of women outside their homes without purdah (head cover) as (a) punishable offense, their employers are guilty to the same degree. We are urging the media to release their women from their jobs.”

In India, as part of an anti-trolling campaign by national daily Hindustan Times, Harry Stevens and Piyush Aggarwal set out in April to demonstrate how hard it is to be an outspoken woman on Twitter. They gathered a week’s worth of tweets sent to four prominent Indian women journalists. Out of these Barkha Dutt, a television veteran, received 3,020 abusive tweets, and Rana Ayyub, a Muslim, received 2,580 hateful tweets, often coloured by Islamophobia.

Internet trolls have had a free run in the region for at least six years now. Women journalists who tackled trolling and abusive comments on social media by ignoring or blocking the persistent trolls, now find that stalking and direct threats of attack have increased, forcing them to seek legal recourse or police protection.

“Journalists’ safety is a precondition for free speech and free media,” says the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“Online media today allows for the fast flow of information and the public’s active par­ticipation in sharing ideas, news and insight. An open, free and safe Internet is essential for public debate and free flow of information and therefore should be duly protected.”

Female journalists, bloggers and other media actors are disproportionally experi­encing gender related threats, harassment and intimidation on the Internet, which has a direct impact on their safety and future online activities.

Twitter threats like “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it” have been directed even at the sexagenarian Mary Beard.

About the vitriolic abuse she faces, Dutt asks, “Why isn’t anyone discussing the marriages, divorces, and affairs of my male colleagues? Why the fixation with my private life? Because the public scrutiny of women – and especially those of us who are proudly ambitious and fiercely independent – is very different from the standards used to measure men. And the subtext is always sexual.”

“Cyber bullies are the same as goons who threaten in real life,” psychiatrist Samir Parikh says.

The personalized online abuse women journalists get for doing only what is expected by their professional job “can make them feel traumatized, helpless, angry and very frustrated,” says Parikh. “In some, it can even cause self-esteem issues, affect social life and lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. For women, the abuse and threats of violence are often openly sexist and sexual, which makes them tougher to deal with.”

“(Online) it is possible to cloak one’s identity and attack individuals in the most unethical and harmful manner,” says Dilrukshi Handunnetti, an editor in Colombo. “Shaming and harming women is an age-old practice, except that real time information sharing through technology makes the outreach far greater and the damage huge.”

It does little to ease the trauma for journalists to know that trolling correlates with psychopathy, sadism, and Machiavellianism, according to a 2014 empirical personality study. Other studies found boredom, attention seeking, revenge, pleasure, and a desire to cause damage to the community among motivations for trolling.

But some interviewed trolls viewed their online comments not as harassment, but as a needed counterweight to opinions and news items they believe are flawed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

As threats get too dangerous to ignore, women journalists are being forced to seek recourse from the law, despite their misgivings about how the law is framed and doubts about whether law-enforcing agencies can ensure speedy and sensitive investigation.

An Online Harassment Social Media Policy drafted March 2016 by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) lays out a road map for media houses to protect journalistic voices, create safe online spaces for open and respectful debate, and deal with abuse and harassment faced in particular by female staff.

Among the mechanisms to ensure digital safety and freedom from harassment, the road map calls for a special cyber cell in media organizations that equip women journalists particularly, with legal awareness and resources. When the harassment is extreme, measures must also include physical security, legal hand-holding, and support to pursue police complaints and psychological support and trauma counseling.

Meanwhile, a Byte Back handbook for women journalists being cyber-bullied gives out handy advice – ignore, filter, block, report and if it gets worse, name-and-shame, shout it out, and don’t forget to save and document abuse.

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Fighting Xenophobia & Inequality Together in the Age of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/#respond Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:25:23 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150042 Ben Phillips is Co-Founder #fightinequality alliance

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Credit: UN photo

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, KENYA, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

As the world marks 100 days of the Trump Presidency, we can see that we are now in a new era of crisis, that it goes well beyond one man and one country, and that only a profound and international response can get us out of the state we are in.

The crises of xenophobia and inequality embodied by the Age of Trump are profound and are worldwide. Refugees without safe haven; ethnic and religious minorities facing officially sanctioned discrimination; women facing an aggressive onslaught of misogyny.

Civil society leaders supporting marginalized people are seeing an upsurge of these injustices in every continent. We are witnessing a world in danger not just of a slow down in social progress but of a reverse in it.

For leaders of civil society, four things are clear.

First, this is a global challenge. The whirlwind first hundred days of the Trump administration in the US have both epitomized and exacerbated worrying global trends in which an increasingly economically divided world is becoming an increasingly angry and intolerant one.

Secondly, we must take sides against intolerance. We must unashamedly support the oppressed and commit ourselves to resisting forces of division – whether it be hate speech at refugees in Hungary, xenophobic attacks in South Africa, extrajudicial killings of activists in Latin America, discrimination against religious minorities in South Asia, or unconstitutional bans on migrants in the USA. We will work together with others to help foster societies built on respect for diversity, and open to refugees from war and persecution.

The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.
Thirdly, to tackle the forces of intolerance we must also confront the ever widening inequality that is driving societies apart. Progressive values are put under massive strain when economies cast millions aside. We know from history that 1929 economics can lead to 1933 politics, and that when people lose hope fascists ascend. Growth must benefit ordinary people, economies must be reoriented to create jobs, decent jobs, and not see wealth ever more concentrated in the hands of a view.

Fourthly, we must work together as one. There is an old saying, “the people united will never be defeated”. Sadly, that is not always true. But what is true is that the people divided will always be defeated. The challenge to foster societies of equality and solidarity can not be achieved by one organization or even one sector alone. That is why we have come together as many different leaders in NGOs, trade unions, and social movements in a joint call to #fightinequality, and to build power from below.

The stakes could not be higher. The forces of ever widening inequality, and of ever increasingly intolerance, are mobilizing. But so are the forces of solidarity and equality.

We are more united than ever to fight inequality and intolerance. Inspired by the great campaigns of old – anti-slavery, anti-colonialism, votes for women, anti-apartheid, drop the debt – and by the determined young people of today – in Fees Must Fall, Black Lives Matter, Gambia Has Decided – we will work to bend the long arc of the universe towards justice. The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.

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Mind the Treatment Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/mind-the-treatment-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mind-the-treatment-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/mind-the-treatment-gap/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:51:06 +0000 Vani Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149983 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester.

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getty images/ istock photo

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
PHILADELPHIA AND NEW DELHI, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

Implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act will require a restructuring of health-care services
The Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017, has been hailed as a momentous reform. According to the Bill, every person will have the right to access mental health care operated or funded by the government; good quality and affordable health care; equality of treatment and protection from inhuman practices; access to legal services; and right to complain against coercion and cruelty. The Bill also empowers a mentally ill person to choose a treatment and her/his nominated representative, decriminalises attempted suicide, prohibits the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to mentally ill adults without the use of muscle relaxants and anaesthesia, and contains provisions for care, treatment and rehabilitation for those who have experienced severe stress and attempted suicide. While these are laudable and ambitious objectives as they address major concerns of mental health care, there have been some critiques drawing attention to the lack of funds, trained personnel, and insufficient emphasis on community care. The ground reality, however, suggests that these objectives are not just overambitious but an overkill.

Poor infrastructure, low funds
The Global Burden of Disease Study shows that in 2013, 50% of all disease burden in India was caused by non-communicable diseases, while mental disorders accounted for about 6% of the total disease burden. A third of this is due to depression, which also significantly contributes to suicide and ischaemic heart disease. Worse, suicide is a leading cause of death in people in India aged 15-29.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

There are only 43 government-run mental hospitals across all of India to provide services to more than 70 million people living with mental disorders. There are 0.30 psychiatrists, 0.17 nurses, and 0.05 psychologists per 1,00,000 mentally ill patients in the country. The case of the Bareilly mental hospital — one of three major mental hospitals in Uttar Pradesh — is stunning. In this hospital, 350 patients can be admitted and around 200 patients can attend the out-patient department every day. But all these patients would be at the mercy of only one psychiatrist!

At the macro level, the proposed health expenditure of 1.2% of GDP in the Budget for 2017-18 is among the lowest in the world. In real terms, public health expenditure has consistently declined since 2013-14. Of the total health budget, a mere 1-2% is spent on mental health.

But this is a small part of the explanation of the inadequacy and abysmal quality of mental health services in India. Underlying this deplorable state of affairs is a pervasive perception that those with mental illnesses are pathological or even criminal; hence they do not deserve the type of rehabilitation given to those with physical ailments. Besides, the treatment gap (the difference between those suffering from mental illnesses and those seeking medical/psychiatric care) is widened because of the social stigma attached to such illnesses. In fact, many poor people hide their illnesses and endanger their lives. Others argue that it is not so much stigma but ignorance and lack of knowledge, myths, and supernatural beliefs that impede treatment. Women typically face larger treatment gaps as they are vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse and inhuman treatment.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Ethnographic evidence from the Human Rights Watch Report 2014 relating to women inpatients is gruesome. Deepali, a woman with a perceived psychosocial disability, said: “The nurse would sometimes forcefully put the pills in my mouth and stroke my throat to send them down, the way I feed my dogs… I woke up one night and I couldn’t move; my body was in intense physical pain. A nurse came and jabbed an injection into my body, without even taking off my clothes. You are treated worse than animals.”

Often, all women and girls were admitted without their consent and, as the team left, they cried out in despair, “send me home” or “take me home”. Unable to cope with mentally ill relatives, families often abandon them in mental hospitals and elsewhere. In one case, a woman who was declared “fit for discharge” in the 1990s was still in the institution as of August 2013 because of lack of alternative resettlement options for her.

Some women were not even informed that ECT was being administered. Psychiatric nurses admitted that ECT was administered not just on violent and suicidal patients but also on new admissions who tend to be unmanageable.

Women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in institutions are often subject to not just physical and verbal abuse but also sexual violence. Some women went to a hospital for three months and returned one month pregnant. Not a single FIR was filed.

Government hospitals refuse to admit “mentally ill” persons in the ICU on the grounds that this facility could be put to better use. A woman suffering from breast cancer for two-three years was denied treatment and subsequently died.

Shift to community-based care
An emphatic case could be made for shifting from institutional care to community-based care for people suffering from mental disorders. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, 2017 offers corroborative evidence from VISHRAM (the Vidharbha Stress and Health Programme), which is a community-based mental health initiative. The reduction in the treatment gap was due to increased supply of mental health services through front-line workers and their collaborative linkage with the physicians and psychiatrists in the facilities, as well as increased demand for mental health services due to improved mental health literacy. The substantial reduction in the median cost of care resulted from availability of general as well as specialist services in the village itself.

Whether legislation such as the Mental Healthcare Bill help overcome supply and demand barriers seems highly unlikely, as the root causes lie in pervasive negative attitudes, massive neglect of mental health care, rampant abuse and unchecked inhuman practices, and weak redressal and enforcement mechanisms. The Bill seeks to address major lacunae in mental health care and is thus an important step forward. However, its implementation will require substantially larger public resources and, more importantly, restructuring of mental healthcare services with a key role for the community in their provision, rapid expansion of mental health literacy, effective monitoring and enforcement of the objectives envisioned in it. With limited awareness of these challenges, and with a slight risk of exaggeration, the Bill is an overkill.

This opinion editorial was first published in The Hindu

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Survivors of Sex Abuse Say UN Neglected Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them/#respond Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:39:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149964 Several survivors who were sexually abused by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to be neglected by the UN, an investigative team has found. Three years after cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces in CAR became public, a Swedish film team located a number of survivors who have said […]

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Shocking new revelations about what happened to children sexually abused in the Central African Republic by peacekeepers were revealed in a Code Blue Campaign press conference April 12. Credit: SVT

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

Several survivors who were sexually abused by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to be neglected by the UN, an investigative team has found.

Three years after cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces in CAR became public, a Swedish film team located a number of survivors who have said that the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) promised support never arrived.

“The exposure isn’t that these atrocities were committed against the kids, but that they were then promised support and just vanished,” Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign Paula Donovan told IPS.

The organization first documented the cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in 2015, causing public outrage. Children between the ages of 8 and 15, who were living in a refugee camp at the time, reported that they were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food and other goods. Fourteen French soldiers reportedly were suspected of being involved.

After speaking to UNICEF representative in CAR who said that the children are cared for and followed up with, investigative reporter Karin Mattisson and her team spoke to children who said otherwise. One such survivor is Martha who became pregnant and contracted HIV by a peacekeeping soldier when she was 14-years-old.

“Initially, UNICEF said that they would make sure that the soldier was imprisoned and take care of the mother and baby to help us. But then, nothing, no one came to visit. It was left to us to take care of the child,” her friend said. Martha said that all they received was a “present” of money equivalent to US$15, a bag of rice, milk and sugar. Meanwhile, the peacekeeper was sent home and it is uncertain if any punitive action was taken.

Two boys, who were also sexually abused and provided testimony to the UN’s initial investigation, similarly claimed that they did not receive any help. “We are trying to get it together on our own. We pick up water for people, we wash cars—that is how we have lived since then.”

In response to the allegations, UNICEF spokesperson Najwa Mekki told IPS that the agency has provided assistance to children whose cases they are aware of and that they have scaled up their reporting procedures, victim assistance, and staff capacity since 2015.

“We are following up on the children identified in the Swedish TV programme, providing assistance when appropriate, and will continue to give the necessary support to any victim of sexual exploitation and abuse who comes forward or is brought to our attention,” she told IPS.

Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who is also involved in the Code Blue Campaign, noted that UN bureaucracy often stands in the way of action by preventing clear and concise information on such cases to travel up the chain of command.

“Finally when it reaches the Secretary General, [information] is already absolutely diluted,” he told IPS. And without complete evidence, any investigation becomes a “sham inquiry,” Chowdhury added.

Despite steps taken by the UN to address the scandal in 2015, including the creation of a review panel which characterized the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse as a “gross institutional failure,” little to no punitive action has been taken.

Most recently in January, a French investigation into the cases closed without anyone being charged. Senior UN officials accused of abuse of authority for suppressing information rather than reporting cases have also remained largely untouched, Donovan said, adding that the initial “gross institutional failure” has only continued.

“Justice is being delayed and it is being denied,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Donovan also pointed to the problematic use of “UN insiders” in addressing the issue due to concerns of their own legacy and reputation.

“The people who are part of the problem have been tasked with the solution…they don’t want to come forward and say ‘here’s what is so broken and so awful about the UN and I’ve decided to fix it’ because they presided over all of it,” she told IPS.

Early this year, Secretary-General António Guterres announced the creation of a task force to investigate UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse. Among those in the task force is former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute and Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Military Adviser Lieutenant General Carlos Humberto Loitey.

Chowdhury said that no task force will help.

“If it is with UN insiders…they will not do anything to put their own into this abuse,” he told IPS.

Both Donovan and Chowdhury called for a special courts mechanism to deal with sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces. Chowdhury also highlighted the need for a independent unit to conduct inquiries and report cases which may help bring about more punitive action against perpetrators whose actions are often shielded by their colleagues.

“The UN needs to save itself from itself,” Donovan told IPS.

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Tomatoes, Limes and Sex-Selective Abortionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 04:45:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149843 The United States is withdrawing all of its funding from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) after claiming without evidence that the agency supports coercive abortions in China. UNFPA, which does not provide support for abortions anywhere, says that U.S. funds actually helped it to prevent some 295,000 unsafe abortions in 2016 by supporting voluntary family planning. IPS takes a look at one of the other ways the UNFPA is working to reduce abortions, by addressing gender-biased sex selection.

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Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

When Bimla Chandrasekharan saw that women who gave birth to baby girls were being sent out of the house by their angry husbands and mothers-in-law she realised a basic biology lesson was needed.

“We start educating them on this XY chromosome,” Chandrasekharan who is Founder and Director of Indian women’s rights organisation EKTA told IPS. “(But) we don’t say XY chromosome, we do it with tomatoes and limes. ‘Tomato tomato’ it becomes a girl, ‘tomato lime’ it becomes a boy.”

It is just a start but this lesson helps to show fathers that they in fact determine the sex of their children.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), there are now 117 million girls who are ‘missing’ worldwide because of sex selective abortion and infanticide.

The problem ballooned in India and China in the 1990s, partly due to increased access to ultrasounds. But according to the UNFPA the problem has also now spread to new regions including Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

A new UNFPA program to address the problem in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Nepal will draw on the experiences of both India and China in addressing the problem.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.” -- Luis Mora, UNFPA

“Son preference is a practice that affects many societies around the world,” Luis Mora, Chief of the UN Population Fund’s Gender, Human Rights & Culture Branch told IPS.

“What we have seen over the last three decades is that the practice that initially was considered a sort of exception in China and India … has moved to other countries.”

Yet while the increase in sex selection has coincided with access to technologies like ultrasound, both Mora and Chandrasekharan agree that banning ultrasounds alone won’t fix the problem.

“In a patriarchal society there is always a preference for a male child,” says Chandrasekharan.

This is why EKTA challenges patriarchy and teaches mothers and fathers why they should want to have daughters just as much as they want sons.

Some of the reasons why sons are preferred over daughters are economic. In India parents have to pay a dowry for daughters. In many countries only sons can inherit property, daughters cannot.

But there are other reasons too.

As Chandrasekharan points out, some mothers fear bringing daughters into a world where they are likely to experience sexual harassment and abuse, a lifetime of unpaid housework, and marriage as young as 12 or 13.

Chandrasekharan, is an active member of a national campaign called Girls Count, which aims to fight sex selection in India, and receives funding from both UNFPA and UN Women.

She says that within Girls Count there are “two streams.”

“One stream of people believe in strict enforcement of the law,” says Chandrasekharan, “The other stream is challenging patriarchy, I belong to that stream,” She adds that she also believes in the law, but doesn’t think that laws alone work.

As Chandrasekharan points out India’s Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique Act was introduced in 1994, banning prenatal scanning and revealing the sex to parents, yet this law has not stopped sex-selective abortions.

Yet Chandrasekharan is also careful to say that challenging patriarchy doesn’t mean that her organisation is anti-men. Patriarchy is a system, she says that has consequences for both men and women, but mostly benefits men.

“We are not against you as an individual we are talking about a system,” she tells the men and boys she works with.

Mora also agrees that it is not possible to end sex selection without addressing gender inequality.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.”

This includes giving rights, equal access to education, employment and land, says Mora. “These are the practical things that make a sustainable change.”

This is also why EKTA introduces role models to the community, to show that not all women will spend their lives doing unpaid housework.

EKTA’s most recent role model came from the local community herself. At a young age she met a family member who told her that she had flown to meet them by plane.

Even though the girl came from a marginalised Dalit family, she told her family that she wanted to be the ‘engine driver’ of a plane, since she didn’t yet know the word for pilot.

Last year, says Chandrasekharan, she became a full-fledged pilot and returned to speak to the community as part of EKTA’s role models program.

UNFPA’s new program in the six selected countries is funded by the European Union, however many other UNFPA programs are now in jeopardy, after the United States’ decision to withdraw all of its funding from the agency on Monday.

IPS spoke to Chandrasekharan during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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“Devastating Consequences” for Women, Girls as U.S. Defunds UN Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency/#comments Wed, 05 Apr 2017 22:38:25 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149823 The U.S. has withdrawn all of its funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that works on family planning and reproductive health in over 150 countries. The decision is based on what the UNFPA says is an erroneous claim that it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation […]

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Mothers and babies wait for health screening at a US funded health clinic in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2017 (IPS)

The U.S. has withdrawn all of its funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that works on family planning and reproductive health in over 150 countries.

The decision is based on what the UNFPA says is an erroneous claim that it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation (in China).”

The claim was made by the U.S. State Department in a letter on Monday announcing the cuts, but has been described repeatedly as baseless, by those who know the UNFPA’s work.

According to the UNFPA, it does not promote abortions and instead “accords the highest priority to voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies to eliminate recourse to abortion.”

In a statement released in response to the funding cuts, the UNFPA said that “we have always valued the United States as a trusted partner and leader in helping to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

The U.S. is one of the largest contributors to UNFPA having provided over $75 million in 2015 alone, the third highest contribution from a government after the United Kingdom and Sweden. The U.S. is also the second largest funder of UNFPA’s humanitarian operations. Like other UN agencies, UNFPA is funded by governments voluntarily.

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organization working on sexual and reproductive rights.

International Women’s Health Coalition’s Director of Advocacy and Policy Shannon Kowalski told IPS that the cuts will have “devastating consequences” for girls and women around the world.

“UNFPA has played a critical role in getting services to the most marginalised women…now their lives and health are at stake because of this,” Kowalski told IPS. 

She noted that the UN agency’s frontline work in crisis situations will be most affected, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to women who have been targeted by the Islamic State (IS) or other groups in the Middle Eastern region. 

According to the UN Foundation, the elimination of U.S. support threatens UNFPA’s ability to reach an estimated 48,000 women with safe childbirth in Syria and 55 women’s centers providing support for over 15,000 women and girl survivors of gender-based violence in Iraq, including one dedicated to more than 700 Yazidi sexual violence survivors.

Around the world, the UNFPA says that US funding in 2016 helped it to save the lives of 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth, prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies, ensure 1,251 fistula surgeries and prevent 295,000 unsafe abortions.

Executive Director of UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project Seema Jalan told IPS that the U.S. government is also the primary funder of the only maternity ward for Syrian women in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.   

“Pregnant Syrian women will have absolutely nowhere to go to deliver their babies,” she stated. 

Kowalski highlighted the larger implications of the U.S.’ decision, stating: “It will send a clear message that the world doesn’t care about responding to women in the most marginalized situations and in many respects, it will indulge in extremists that are looking to capitalize on this marginalization and abandonment of women.” 

This is not the first time that the UNFPA has experienced such cuts from the U.S. government. President George W. Bush previously withdrew $34 million from the agency between 2002 to 2008, similarly citing the agency’s involvement in coercive policies in China. 

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organisation working on sexual and reproductive rights.  

“The Chinese government does still [violent women’s rights]… but because UNFPA is active in the country in supporting the implementation of voluntary sexual and reproductive health services, they link the two and say that UNFPA is directly supporting these coercive policies which is not true,” Kowalski stated. 

One such coercive policy is the East Asian Nation’s one child regulation which has been slowly phased out since 2015, a move that UNFPA helped the country make, Jalan said. 

“The main purpose of UNFPA in China has been to introduce the concept of quality of care and voluntary family planning that is rights-based,” Jalan told IPS. 

Jalan added that UNFPA in China did not even provide assistance to the Chinese government or its family planning agency in 2016, a claim that the State Department makes in its letter.  

However, due to the doubling in U.S. contributions since 2002 and the unprecedented humanitarian crises around the world, the global impacts of the recent decision is expected to be far greater than before. 

Kowalski urged Congress to revoke the Kemp-Kasten Amendment which was referenced to defund the UN agency.   

The amendment prohibits foreign aid to any organization, including U.S. organizations and multilateral organizations, that is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. It is similar to the recently reinstated global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, which forbids foreign groups receiving U.S. assistance to provide information about abortion or abortion services. 

Already, numerous U.S. politicians from New York and California condemned the decision, stating: “President Trump’s hypocrisy has reached new heights with his decision to halt U.S. assistance to the United Nations Population Fund. The President just recently claimed to have ‘tremendous respect’ for women and honored their role around the world, and yet within a month he has issued a decision to cut off funding for the UNFPA…To cut off this funding is a cruel decision that will not only hurt women and their children, but will also further damage the leadership role of the United States around the globe. We call on the President to put women over politics and reverse this decision immediately.” 

Jalan said that this was an “important” start, but urged for a more bipartisan initiative to reverse the decision. 

“Funding for women and girl’s basic healthcare, assuring that a Syrian refugee pregnant woman can actually have a safe delivery and that her child can survive that delivery, someone who has survived sexual violence and can have access to care and support—we believe that that is a bipartisan issue,” she told IPS. 

Kowalski also stressed the need for the international community to step up and increase their support to help close UNFPA’s funding gap.

Upon the reintroduction of the global gag rule, several countries raised approximately $190 million to help fill imminent funding gaps including Sweden, Canada, and Finland who each pledged $21 million towards global access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

“Without UNFPA being able to provide these services, the consequences for women will be devastating,” Kowalski said. 

The funds allocated to UNFPA for the fiscal year 2017 are to be reverted to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health operations in developing countries. 

The decision marks the first of the Trump administration’s promised cuts to the UN.  

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UN to Investigate Violations Against Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:03:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149667 A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in […]

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Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts.

After speaking to hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following the retaliation, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights Yanghee Lee found cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces.

Nearly half of the 220 Rohingya interviewed by the UN said a family member had been killed, while 52 out of 101 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence from security forces.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations and expressed disappointment in the Council’s move.

“Such kind of action is not acceptable to Myanmar as it not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances. Let the Myanmar people choose the best and the most effective course of action to address the challenges in Myanmar,” said Myanmar’s Ambassador Htin Lynn.

Myanmar’s investigatory committee had recently interviewed alleged victims and is due to announce its findings by August.

Proposed by the European Union, the resolution was adopted without a vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council and called for “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

India and China did not back the decision, stating that they, along with Myanmar, would “disassociate” themselves from the mission.

Though Lee had initially urged for a full international commission of inquiry, many human rights groups applauded the move.

“[An] international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Director John Fisher.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Champa Patel echoed similar sentiments, stating that the mission is “long overdue” and that Myanmar’s government should “welcome” it.

“The world has a right to know the full truth of events,” she stated.

Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and enacted several discriminatory policies, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

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Ending Gender-Based Violence Key to Health and Well-Beinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/ending-gender-based-violence-key-to-health-and-well-being/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-gender-based-violence-key-to-health-and-well-being http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/ending-gender-based-violence-key-to-health-and-well-being/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 19:54:39 +0000 Natalia Linou http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149640 Natalia Linou is Policy Specialist Gender, Health and HIV at the UN Development Program.

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Survivors of gender-based violence need dignity for themselves and their families. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Natalia Linou
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

Physical injuries are some of the more visible, and at times most deadly, consequences of gender-based violence (GBV). But the long-term mental health consequences are often invisible and left untreated. Similarly, the reproductive and sexual health needs of survivors from rape and sexual violence – to reduce the risk of HIV and STIs, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe terminations, and long-term reproductive complications – are often unmet, stigmatised and under-reported.

But it is not only health needs which must be met. GBV is a consequence and reflection of structural inequalities that threaten sustainable development, undermine democratic governance, deepen social fragmentation and threaten peace and security. This week, UNDP and the Republic of Korea hosted an event at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women on “Gender-based violence, health and well-being: Addressing the needs of women and girls living in crisis affected context” bringing together government officials, practitioners, and academics.

A common message emerged: survivors need dignity for themselves and their families, they need immediate health services and legal services, livelihood support and economic empowerment. Multi-sectoral approaches which can meet these distinct, but inter-connected, needs are often the most effective. Research has demonstrated co-benefits of combining economic and health interventions, including for the reduction of intimate partner violence. However, even where services are available, serious barriers to accessing them exist. As Ambassador Oh Youngju of Korea stressed: “survivors of violence are often deterred from seeking help or reporting the incidents due to stigma and a lack of accessible services or ways to report safely, receive help and be treated with dignity”.

A common message emerged: survivors need dignity for themselves and their families, they need immediate health services and legal services, livelihood support and economic empowerment.

And the data can be daunting. Deputy Minister Wardak of Afghanistan shared some sobering statistics from her country: almost one in two women age 15-49 reporting physical violence in the last 12 months, with the majority who have experienced physical or sexual violence (61%) not seeking help or telling anyone about the violence.

So is there any room for optimism?

Kelly, director of the Women and War program of Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative, stressed that while conflict is a time of trauma, it is also a time of potential transformation. Changing social norms which perpetuate violence can be linked to peace and recovery processes. And successful initiatives can be scaled up. UNDP’s Dhaliwal, shared some good practices. In South Sudan, UNDP is working in partnership with the Government, the Global Fund and the International Organization for Migration to address gender-based violence as part of mental health and psychosocial support programmes. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP supported the establishment of multipurpose community centres, where survivors of GBV are provided with legal assistance and offered livelihoods training, after medical and psychosocial treatment is given by other partners. And in Afghanistan, efforts to increase the number of female healthcare workers, while not directly focused on survivors of violence, can offer culturally appropriate services and safe-spaces.

Tatsi, Executive Director in the Office for the Development of Women in Papua New Guinea shared both successes – strong alignment across civil society and government in bringing about a coherent strategy to end GBV, and challenges – the need for additional financial and technical support and called on donors to work with government for long-term, sustainable, and transformational change. And Devi of UNFPA stressed how a “continuum approach” is necessary across prevention and response efforts, as well as across the humanitarian-development nexus.

Ending GBV, and particularly violence against women and girls is an important end itself. It is also critical for the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 3 -Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and the commitment to ‘leave no one behind.’ While more evidence on preventing violence and supporting survivors is needed, the time for action is now.

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New Approach Needed for Peace in Afghanistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-approach-needed-for-peace-in-afghanistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-approach-needed-for-peace-in-afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-approach-needed-for-peace-in-afghanistan/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:41:07 +0000 Jessica Neuwirth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149570 Jessica Neuwirth is founder of Donor Direct Action, an international organisation which partners with front-line women's groups around the world.

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Afghan women. Credit: IPS

By Jessica Neuwirth
NEW YORK, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

When the United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban’s despicable treatment of women was cited by First Lady Laura Bush as one of the main reasons for going to war. Yet, since that regime fell 15 years ago, the Afghan government has neither included women in the peacebuilding process, nor has it stemmed the endemic rate of violence against them.

2016 was the bloodiest year since the year of the US invasion. While the Taliban has lost power, it continues to operate and other terrorist groups including Daesh have gotten bigger. Afghan women continue to endure “parallel justice” for supposedly “immoral activities”.

Rape, acid attacks, cutting of body parts, stoning, sexual assault, domestic battery, killings and sex trafficking are becoming more common – a situation which Donor Direct Action’s front-line partner, the Humanitarian Assistance for Women and Children (HAWCA), deals with on a daily basis.

Afghanistan, the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman educates only 15% of its girls. 60% are married off by age 16. Fatwas have been issued for girls not to attend school and even the small handful of women who managed to enter politics has been targeted. Assassination attempts have been made on women in public service. Political leaders, directors of women’s affairs and police chiefs have been killed in recent years.

The fallacy of liberating women as part of the war cry has turned out to be yet another illegitimate reason for this seemingly never-ending conflict. Afghan women are now dealing with not only an epidemic of violence inside their homes – but also in society in general. The prolonged war has exacerbated this. Overall deaths and injuries of women in conflict have increased over 400% from 285 in 2009 to 1,218 last year.

There was a road less travelled, which may have ensured a different outcome, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Five weeks after 9/11, Jan Goodwin and I wrote an opinion editorial for the New York Times on how the Taliban’s repression of women in Afghanistan was a political tool for achieving and consolidating power (i.e. much more political than violence which they needed to be liberated from).

We concluded the piece with a warning that “any political process that moves forward without the representation and participation of women will undermine any chances that the principles of democracy and human rights will take hold in Afghanistan. It will be the first clue that little has changed.”

Sadly, women were left out of almost all political participation and little has changed. Their calls for disarmament were ignored, and the efforts of brave women such as Malalai Joya to prevent warlords from taking power were unsuccessful. She was instead removed from her governmental position. This exclusion of women has taken place despite the UN passing Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 and much research including that from the International Peace Institute, which showed that when women were included in peace-building, there was a 35% increase in the probability of it lasting for more than 15 years.

In 2001, we had hoped that the international community would listen to the voices of Afghan women, but the failure to do so and the dire situation of Afghanistan today shows that few lessons have been learned. Discussions on including women in decision-making related to ending conflict and ensuring peace have not been acted upon. Transitional governments supported by the UN were almost entirely male in Afghanistan. And a decade later, exactly the same mistake was made in Libya.

Both countries are now in a virtually impossible positions of political stalemate. In Libya, on the day of elections, a brilliant constitutional lawyer and political activist Salwa Bugaighis was murdered – her political platform was simply to build peace. The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), which she co-founded, carries on her work, with major obstacles to overcome. More recently still, while pledges were made to ensure that women in Syria were part of the peace-building process, a secondary “advisory” role has been given to them instead.

Meaningfully including women in rebuilding peace in war-torn countries seems like an obvious solution to all of this. Enabling women to be part of processes which secure their future and those of their families and the societies they live in is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the most effective thing to do politically and economically.

As long as the same failed approach is used over and over again, but different results are expected, it is unlikely that we will see any lasting peace in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else, anytime soon. In the meanwhile, women will continue to lose their lives for daring to follow a path of political leadership, or even of personal freedom.

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