Inter Press Service » Women & Climate Change Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 28 Nov 2014 11:46:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progress Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nepal Landslide Leaves Women and Children Vulnerable Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:50:55 +0000 Naresh Newar Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
DABI, Nepal, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Living in a makeshift tarpaulin shelter, which barely protects her family from the torrential rainfall or scorching heat of this remote village in southern Nepal, 36-year-old Kamala Pari is under immense stress, worrying about her financial security and children’s safety.

The family’s only house and tiny plot of farmland were completely destroyed by the massive landslide on Jul. 2 that struck the village of Dabi, part of the Dhusun Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sindhupalchok district, nearly 100 km south of the capital Kathmandu.

Dhusun was one of the four VDCs including Mankha, Tekanpur and Ramche severely affected by the disaster, which killed 156 and displaced 478 persons, according to the ministry of home affairs.

This was Nepal’s worst landslide in terms of human fatalities, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society, the country’s largest disaster relief NGO.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling." -- Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School
Though the government is still assessing long-term damages from that fateful day, officials here tell IPS the worst victims are likely to be women and children from these impoverished rural areas, whose houses and farms are erected on land that is highly vulnerable to natural catastrophes.

Left homeless and further impoverished, Pari is worried about the toll this will take on her children, who are now living with the reality of having lost their home and many of their friends.

“We’re not just living in fear of another disaster but have to worry about our future as there is nothing left for us to survive on,” Pari told IPS, adding that their monthly income fell from 100 dollars to 50 dollars after the landslide.

Her 50 neighbours, living in tarpaulin tents in a makeshift camp on top of a hill in this remote village, are also preparing for hard times ahead.

“We lost everything and now we run this shop to survive,” 15-year-old Elina Shrestha, a displaced teenager, told IPS, gesturing at the small grocery shop that she and her friends have cobbled together.

Their customers include tourists from Kathmandu and nearby towns who are flocking to destroyed villages to see with their own eyes the landslide-scarred hills and the lake created by the overflow of water from the nearby Sunkoshi river.

Protecting the vulnerable

Relief workers and protection specialists from government and aid agencies told IPS they are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children.

An estimated 50 children were killed in the landslide, according to the ministry of women, children and social welfare.

“In any disaster, children and women seem to be more impacted than others,” Sunita Kayastha, chief of the emergency unit of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told IPS, adding that they are most vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster, according to a report by Plan International, which found adolescent girls to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the aftermath of a natural hazard.

Senior psychosocial experts recently visited the affected areas and specifically reported that children and women were under immense psychological stress.

“The children need a lot of counseling [and] healing them is our top priority right now,” Women Development Officer Anju Dhungana, point-person for affected women and children in the Sindhupalchok district, told IPS.

Dhungana is concerned about the gap in professional psychosocial counseling at the local level and has requested help from government and international aid agencies based in Kathmandu.

Schools are gradually being resumed, with the help of aid agencies who are identifying safe locations for the children whose classrooms have been destroyed.

One school was totally destroyed, killing 33 children, and the remaining 142 children are now studying in temporary learning centres built by Save the Children and the District Education Office, officials told IPS.

A further 1,952 children who attend schools built close to the river are also at risk, experts say.

Trauma is quite widespread, the sight of the hollowed-out mountainside and large dam created close to the river still causing panic among children and their parents, as well as their teachers.

“I lost 28 of my students and now I have [the] job of healing hundreds of their school friends,” Balaram Timilsina, principal of Bansagu School in Mankha VDC, told IPS.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling,” added Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School of Khadichaur, a small town near Mankha.

International agencies Save the Children, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are helping the government’s efforts to restore normal life in the villages, but it has been challenging.

“We need to help children get back to school by ensuring a safe environment for them,” Sudarshan Shrestha, communications director of Save the Children, told IPS.

The international NGO has been setting up temporary learning centres for hundreds of students who lost their schools.

High risk for adolescent girls

Shrestha’s concern is not just for the children but also the young women who are often vulnerable in post-disaster situations to sexual violence and trafficking.

“The risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking is always high among the families impoverished by disaster, and during such situations, girls are often hoaxed and tricked by traffickers,” explained Shrestha.

Sindhupalchok, one of Nepal’s most impoverished districts, is notorious for being a source of young girls who are trafficked to Kathmandu and Indian cities, according to NGOs; a recent report by Child Reach International identified the district as a major trafficking centre.

“Whenever disaster strikes, the protection of adolescent girls should be highly prioritised and our role is to make sure this crucial issue is included in the disaster response,” UNFPA’s country representative Guilia Vallese told IPS, explaining that protection agencies need to be highly vigilant.

Government officials said that although there have been no cases of sexual or domestic violence and trafficking, they remain concerned.

“There are also a lot of young girls displaced [and living] with their relatives and after our assessment, we found that they need more protection,” explained officer Dhungana.

She said that many of them live in the camps or in school buildings in villages that are remote, with little or no government presence.

The government has formed a committee on protection measures and will be assessing the situation of vulnerability soon to ensure that children and women are living in a secure environment.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Hands Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.


Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mexico’s Climate Laws Ignore Women Thu, 08 May 2014 10:40:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy The Ajusco forest, one of Mexico City’s green lungs and water sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Ajusco forest, one of Mexico City’s green lungs and water sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 8 2014 (IPS)

The rural communities of San Miguel and Santo Tomás Ajusco, to the south of Mexico City, are preserving 3,000 of their 7,619 hectares of forest in exchange for payment for environmental services. But the inequality in the communities is far from ecological.

The 484 men and 120 women who own plots of between half a hectare and eight hectares are organised in the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales (“commissioner’s office for communal goods”). To preserve the forest and care for the water, they receive trees, seeds, greenhouses and other supplies from the federal government and the authorities in the state capital.

There are numerous jobs, ranging from guarding the forest to prevent logging or fires to filling out official paperwork.

And the benefits provided are not insignificant.

Since 2012, this group of ‘comuneros’ – peasants farmers who work communal lands – has been participating in the programme for payments for environmental services financed by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and the private construction firm Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA), who provide 123 dollars a year per hectare for keeping the forest clean, growing living barriers, and planting trees.

The work is not done on all plots at the same time, but in a rotating fashion, so the benefits circulate around a surface area of 220 hectares.

In addition, between 2012 and 2013, CONAFOR granted them around 300,000 dollars for the restoration of micro-basins.

But women only participate in reforestation and garbage collection activities.

“We’re going to reforest up to July, when the rainy season starts,” Alma Reyes, a 42-year-old mother of three who is one of the 120 female ‘comuneras’, told IPS. “The problem is that the jobs available to women are very limited.”

Reyes overcame decades of exclusion in 2010, when she successfully ran for the position of secretary of the Comisariado, one of the organisation’s three highest-level posts.

But her term ended in August 2013, and Reyes doubts that another woman will be elected to the position.

“A sexist majority prevails, and the laws are not enforced,” she said. “Women have no influence over what is done, in the distribution of benefits or in decision-making.”

In 2013, similar payments were approved for 52,000 hectares of forest land around the country. And for a period of five years, CONAFOR earmarked 77 million dollars in environmental services on 471,000 hectares.

At first glance, the projects have borne fruit: most of the children in the communities attend school, people eat three meals a day, and villagers have stopped leaving. But statistics are needed to gauge the improvement in living conditions for both men and women.

The case of the ‘comuneras’ from Ajusco illustrates how the role of women is not taken into account in Mexico’s laws on climate change.

The General Climate Change Law in effect since 2012 makes virtually no reference to participation by women.

The only mention of the subject, in article 71, says the plans drawn up by the states must “always seek to achieve gender equity and the representation of the most vulnerable populations.”

“All laws can be perfected,” legislator Lourdes López, chair of the congressional commission on the environment and natural resources, told IPS. “We are reviewing it, because when the law is applied, details are found. We want to ensure follow-up on the climate change plans and on how the executive branch implements them.”

López, who belongs to the Green Ecological Party and heads the Mexican chapter of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International), is one of the advocates of greater reforms.

The law made the target of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 obligatory, subject to the availability of funding and technology transfer, according to the most comprehensive study on climate legislation, which analysed the laws of 66 countries and was published in February by GLOBE International, a global network of parliamentarians concerned about the environment.

Martha Lucía Micher, a lawmaker from the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), believes laws and decision-making must do a better job of including women.

“How can policies be developed if women are ignored?” asked Micher, chair of the gender equality commission. “How can sustainable projects be promoted if women don’t participate? We aren’t sufficiently represented in decision-making on climate change.”

The two legislative commissions presided over by López and Micher, as well as female activists and academics, set up a working group to propose changes to laws on climate change, with the aim of including a gender perspective.

This country of 118 million people is highly vulnerable to climate change and is already suffering the manifestations of global warming, such as more frequent and devastating storms, severe drought, a rising sea level, and a loss of biological diversity.

Over half – 51.3 percent – of the population lives in poverty, and many women, especially in rural areas, bear the brunt of the impact of climate change, because they are responsible for making sure their families have clean water and food, and for taking care of their families in case of disasters.

The absence of a gender focus in the country’s climate laws contrasts sharply with other areas.

The National Development Plan 2013-2018 stipulates that a gender angle must be incorporated in all government programmes, in order to achieve equality between men and women.

And the National Programme for Equal Opportunities and Non-Discrimination against Women 2013-2018 orders the incorporation “of a gender focus in the detection and mitigation of risks, emergency response and reconstruction in natural and manmade disasters,” and in “policies on the environment and sustainability.”

Leticia Gutiérrez, a policy adviser with the Alianza MéxicoREDD+ (REDD+Mexico Alliance), told IPS that “under the prevailing approach, women are still seen as a vulnerable group and the focus is on the promotion of productive projects without managing to have an impact on the structural causes of gender inequality.”

The Alianza sponsored a study that analyses Mexico’s main laws and policies, as well as public spending dedicated to equality between men and women in relation to the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism.

The document, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Gender Office, concluded that although there is a legal and institutional framework that requires the inclusion of gender considerations, a gender focus is not yet sufficiently included in a cross-cutting manner in forestry, agriculture, environment and climate policies.

Mexico is ranked 21 out of 72 countries on the IUCN Environment and Gender Index (EGI). The top country on the list is Iceland, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is in last place.

The achievements and proposals “sound great,” said Alma Reyes. “I hope they are put into practice, because gender equity is demanded from all sides.”

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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A Honduran Paradise that Doesn’t Want to Anger the Sea Again Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:17:57 +0000 Thelma Mejia One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
SANTA ROSA DE AGUÁN, Honduras , Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change.

“We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what happened with Mitch, which destroyed so many houses in the town – nearly all of the ones along the seashore,” community leader Claudina Gamboa, 35, told IPS.

Around the coastal town of Santa Rosa de Aguán, the stunning landscape is almost as pristine as when the first Garífunas came to Honduras in the 18th century.

The people who came from the sea

The Garífunas make up 10 percent of the population of 8.5 million of Honduras, which they reached over two centuries ago.

The Garífunas are descendants of Africans captured and brought to the region by European slave ships that sank in the 17th century off the island of Yarumei – now St. Vincent – where they settled and intermarried with native Carib and Arawak people.

From St. Vincent, which was under British dominion, they were expelled in 1797 to the Honduran island of Roatán. Later, the Spanish colonialists allowed them to move to the mainland, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and other Central American countries.

To reach Santa Rosa de Aguán, founded in 1886 and home to just over 3,000 people, IPS drove by car for 12 hours from Tegucigalpa through five of this Central American country’s 18 departments or provinces, until reaching the village of Dos Bocas, 567 km northeast of the capital.

From this village on the mainland, a small boat runs to Santa Rosa de Aguán, located on the sand in the delta of the Aguán river, whose name in the Garífuna language means “abundant waters.”

Half of the trip is on roads in terrible conditions, which become unnerving when it gets dark. But after crossing the river late at night, under a starry sky with a sea breeze caressing the skin, the journey finally comes to a peaceful end.

A three-year project to help the sand dunes recover, which was completed in 2013, was carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, with additional support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The project sought to generate conditions that would enable the local community to adapt to the risks of climate change and protect the natural ecosystem of the dunes.

The initiative enlisted 40 local volunteers, almost all of them women, who went door to door to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the environment and to educate people about the risks posed by climate change.

“They called them crazy, and thought the people working on that were stupid, but I asked them ‘don’t stop, just keep doing it.’ Now there is greater awareness and people have seen the winds aren’t hitting so hard,” Atanasia Ruíz, a former deputy mayor of the town (2008-2014) and a survivor of Hurricane Mitch, told IPS.

She and Gamboa said the women played an essential role in raising awareness on climate change, and added that thanks to their efforts, the project left an imprint on the white sand and the local inhabitants.

People in the community now understand the importance of protecting the coastal system and preserving the dunes, and have learned to organise behind that goal, Gamboa said. “It’s really touching to see the old women from our town picking up garbage for recycling,” she said.

The sand dunes act as natural protective barriers that keep the wind or waves from smashing into the town during storms.

“When the sea got mad, it made us pay. When Mitch hit, everything here was flattened, it was just horrible,” Gamboa said.

Some people left town, she said, “because we were told that we couldn’t live here, that it was too vulnerable and that the sea would always flood us because there was no way to keep it out.

“But many of us stayed, and with the knowledge they gave us, we know how to protect ourselves and our town,” she said, proudly pointing out how the vegetation has begun to grow in the dunes.

In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 11,000 dead and 8,000 missing in Honduras, while causing enormous economic losses and damage to infrastructure.

Santa Rosa de Aguán was hit especially hard, with storm surges up to five metres high. The bodies of more than 40 people from the town were found, while others went missing.

The effort to recover the sand dunes along the coast included the construction of wide wooden walkways to protect the sand.

In addition, the remains of cinder block houses destroyed by Mitch were finally removed, to prevent them from inhibiting the natural formation of dunes.

The project also introduced recycling, to clear garbage from the beach and the sandy unpaved streets of this town, where visitors are greeted with “buiti achuluruni”, which means “welcome” in the Garífuna language.

Lícida Nicolasa Gómez is an 18-year-old member of the Garífuna community who prefers to be called “Alondra”, her nickname since childhood.

“I loved it when they invited me to the dunes and recycling project, because we were deforesting the dunes, hurting them, destroying the vegetation, but we’re not doing that anymore,” she said.

“We even made a mural on one of the walls of the community centre, to remember what kind of town we wanted,” she added, with a broad smile.

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural includes scraps of plastic, metal, tiles and bottle tops. It reflects the beauty of the Garífunas, showing people fishing, crops of mandioc and plantain, and the sea and bright sun, while reflecting the desire to live in harmony with the environment.

The sand dunes are up to five metres high in this small town at the mouth of a river that runs through the country’s tropical rainforest.

Hugo Galeano, from GEF’s Small Grants Programme, told IPS that Santa Rosa de Aguán became even more vulnerable after Hurricane Mitch, which affected the local livelihoods based on fishing, farming and livestock.

For this community built between the river and the sea, flooding is one of the main threats to survival, said the representative of the GEF programme.

Ricardo Norales, 80, told IPS that, although the sand dunes and vegetation are growing, “the location of our community means we are still exposed to inclement weather.

“With the project, we saw how the wind and the sea don’t penetrate our homes as much anymore. But we need this kind of aid to be more sustainable,” he said.

The history of Santa Rosa de Aguán is marked by the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes, which have hit the town directly or indirectly many times since it was founded.

But the sand dunes are once again taking shape along the shoreline, where the community has built walkways to the sea.

Local inhabitants want their town to be seen as an example of adaptation to climate change and the construction of alternatives making survival possible. Several of them said they did not want an “ayó” – good-bye in Garífuna – for their community.

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Sun Shines on Forest Women Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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Gender Counts in the Aftermath of Disaster Fri, 31 Jan 2014 13:52:10 +0000 Jewel Fraser A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the Christmas Eve floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was still missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the Christmas Eve floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was still missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 31 2014 (IPS)

The rise in natural disasters in the Caribbean due to climate change has led to increased suffering for both men and women, much of it as a consequence of socially constructed roles based on gender, experts say.

So although women typically suffer more during natural disasters, gender policies that specifically focus on helping men when disasters strike are also needed, according to a disaster management official in the Caribbean."[Women] connect to the whole concept of social capital - relying on each other, family connections and friends." -- Elizabeth Riley

“In the Caribbean region, discussions on gender are relegated to conversations on women,” Elizabeth Riley, the deputy executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), told IPS.

However, she said, experience of natural disasters in the region show that there is a need for psycho-social support programmes for males following a disaster.

A report prepared for the United Nations Development Programme entitled “Enhancing Gender Visibility in Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change in the Caribbean” noted that men often lacked coping skills in the aftermath of a hurricane and were prone to alcohol abuse, stress, and anger.

Riley said reports from regional disasters showed women, on the other hand, responded to such events “by connecting to the whole concept of social capital – relying on each other, family connections and friends.”

She said women in these disasters occupied themselves with consoling children through story-telling, communal cooking and “encouraging people toward a place of recovery.” Other reports showed that men did show some resilience in tackling the reconstruction of their homes.

Reports of natural disasters in the region highlight other male vulnerabilities.

Riley said other reports show that “elderly men are abandoned and incapable of fending for themselves.”

“It is very closely connected to a culture where men have multiple partners and when they reach old age they do not have social capital for support,” she said.

“That is the result of the socially constructed role of men being macho” by having children with several women, she said. “It puts a level of burden on the state because the support for older men is significantly less than that for women,” she said.

In its 2004 macro-economic and social assessment of the damage wrought by Hurricane Ivan in Grenada, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States noted that “69 percent of the victims were males, and 70 percent of all deceased were over 60 years old.”

Men may be more likely to suffer physical harm in a natural disaster, said Dr. Asha Kambon, a consultant who worked for 20 years with UN-ECLAC, specialising in natural disasters and their impact on small island developing states. “We women are not as prone to risk-taking as men,” she noted.

Though women typically die in greater numbers than men in a natural disaster, Kambon told IPS the ratio of male to female deaths depended very much “on the environment, on the circumstances.”

For example, in the recent floods that occurred over the Christmas holidays in St. Vincent, Dominica, and St. Lucia, all six of the deaths in St. Lucia were of men, most of whom were attempting to drive through the floods.

She recalled that during floods in Guyana in a recent year, several men died from leptospirosis because of walking through flood waters, whereas no women died from this illness. Kambon said this was because the women took the recommended medication and avoided contact with the flood waters.

Nevertheless, natural disasters do place a special burden on women in the region in ways that mirror the experiences of women worldwide.

In the Caribbean, schools and churches are the most likely buildings to be used as shelters following a natural disaster. This increases the women’s burden of care, said Kambon, since “women are responsible for the children and the elderly, and very often the schools are not reopened rapidly following a disaster. So they have to look after those children, and they cannot go out and look for work.”

According to “Making Risky Environments Safer,” published by the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women, “Domestic work increases enormously when support systems such as childcare, schools, clinics, public transportation and family networks are disrupted or destroyed” due to natural disaster.

Many poor women in the Caribbean are employed at the lowest end of the tourism industry, and since disasters typically do severe damage to the industry, many are left unemployed because their skills are not easily transferable.

“Men are able to get into the marketplace faster because the skills they possess are transferable. Also, men often have some construction skills so they can get jobs in those sectors and earn an income,” Kambon said.

Women are less likely to be employed in the “cash for work” programmes that are frequently implemented following a disaster to rebuild a country’s infrastructure and to provide paid employment, said Riley, since men have the advantage of greater physical strength.

Kambon said that women are also less likely to be employed in such rebuilding programmes because of being restricted to the home in caring for elderly relatives and children.

Perhaps “a cash for care” programme could be implemented, she said, with a view to providing an income to women who would look after dependent members of the community, thus freeing other women to go out and look for work.

She said such considerations underscore the importance of knowing the gender ratio of the community when devising disaster response programmes.

According to “Making Risky Environments Safer”, “Emergency relief workers’ lack of awareness of gender-based inequalities can further perpetuate gender bias and put women at an increased disadvantage in access to relief measures and other opportunities and benefits.”

Further, in the aftermath of recent regional disasters, there was the issue “of the safety and well-being of women and children,” Kambon said, since there is often a breakdown of law and order.

Bathroom facilities also presented a problem for women in emergency shelters.

“What was adequate for men was completely inadequate for women, in terms of cleanliness, safety, location and the ability to use them,” Kambon said.

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Women Advance in Distant Islands Sat, 21 Dec 2013 07:34:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson By Catherine Wilson
BUALA, Solomon Islands, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands is demonstrating that women leaders can drive development progress and win voter support.

Sikilabu did not have the same campaign funds as male candidates when she stood in the 2006 provincial election. But her unwavering commitment for more than a decade to bringing tangible improvements to rural lives that were blighted by hardship and lack of development paved the way for her landslide victory against six male candidates.

“To me, politics is helping a family to a better life, helping the family who are hungry, the elderly, the disabled, assisting communities to build toilets, providing access to solar energy,” Sikilabu told IPS in the Solomon Islands. “It is about really touching people’s lives.”

In a nation of more than 900 islands covered in dense tropical rainforest with few roads and widely scattered villages, the challenges of campaigning were enormous. Touring communities involved sleeping in the bush, swimming across flooded rivers and travelling by canoe in stormy weather.

It was the first time that remote communities in Isabel Province, which has a population of about 30,000, witnessed women bidding for election. Although society in Isabel is matrilineal, Sikilabu explained that habitually “boys are sent to school and that’s the beginning of this idea that women are not important in decision-making committees or meetings.”

While equality is enshrined in the constitution, broad acceptance of women in political power is yet to become a reality.

The World Bank reports there has been little progress in increasing women’s political representation in the Pacific region over the past decade. In the Solomon Islands only two women have been elected to the national parliament since Independence in 1978, Hilda Kari in the 1980s and recently Vika Lusibaea. In the 2010 national election, women contested 21 of 50 seats, but only received 4 percent of the vote.

On entering the provincial assembly with one other woman, Beverley Dick, Sikilabu perceived a public “desperate for change” and knew it was vital to achieve real outcomes during her first term in office.

“I said to the people, when I’m elected I will improve the things you are facing as problems in the communities,” Sikilabu said.

Water, energy, sanitation and health are some of the basic service needs in the province. Sikilabu strove first to provide electricity to the estimated 1,500 people in 16 remote communities in her ward or electorate.

“After my first four years, I had supplied solar energy systems to every family in every household in every village,” she said. “The children have light, so they can sit in the evening and do their homework. Now their pass marks are getting higher.”

Building and repairing rural health clinics that will serve more than 4,000 people is another achievement.

“Women have babies in their canoe, on the beach and children die from malaria,” Sikilabu said. “In the past we have had men leaders who haven’t done anything to address this problem.”

From the capital, Honiara, she coordinated the shipping of building materials, plumbing equipment, toilets, solar panels and water tanks to the Isabel islands to expedite work on the new clinic in Sigana ward and one under repair in Japuana ward.

“When the new clinic is open, most women will be within walking distance,” Sikilabu said. “Currently they have to paddle their canoes for up to three hours.”

Helen and Patlyn from Gurena village on the main Santa Isabel Island claimed that the efforts of local women leaders had also improved sanitation, housing and agricultural livelihoods through access to farm tools and more productive crops.

Today Isabel is home to two of the total six women in provincial governments in the country.

Through their leadership, “more social problems have been addressed and our voice is being heard on important issues, such as mining and logging,” Judy Tabiru, president of the Isabel Provincial Council of Women in Buala added.

Sikilabu has announced her candidature for the 2014 national election, and her achievements have attracted the attention of four political parties that are keen to have her join them.

However she is adamant that more elected women are needed to influence government policies and social change in a nation ranked 143 out of 187 for human development. For this to happen, addressing persistent gender inequality, in a country where female literacy is an estimated 14 percent, and increasing women’s economic and leadership capacity is critical.

“If we choose women who are educated, automatically they will have the confidence if they are elected to parliament,” Tabiru emphasised. “But for women in the provinces, they have to be trained in public speaking; they have to get more confidence.”

Isabel’s Ministry of Community Affairs conducts village training to develop female participation in decision-making and encourage their public advocacy on important community issues.

National Councils of Women, intergovernmental organisations and international donors also support women’s political aspirations in the region. In August Sikilabu spent time with the deputy speaker of the Victorian State Parliament, Christine Fyffe, as part of a regional mentoring exchange programme organised by the Australian Government’s Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project.

Temporary special measures, in the form of 10 reserved parliamentary seats for women, were proposed in 2008 in the Solomon Islands, but did not gain cabinet approval. Yet Sikilabu believes they are required.

“There are men and women who do not support temporary special measures. They feel it is giving special treatment to women, but in Malaita Province the women’s situation is different to mine in Isabel, so we are not all the same,” she said.

She emphasised it was also a responsibility of currently elected women to ensure that others followed in the future.

“We have to impact more women coming into government by being passionate, coming out in public and talking more and being seen to be addressing issues.”

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Driving Home the Link Between Gender and Climate Change Mon, 18 Nov 2013 18:38:54 +0000 Silvia Giannelli Panelists at the Gender and Climate Change workshop held Nov. 12 at the COP19 in Warsaw. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Panelists at the Gender and Climate Change workshop held Nov. 12 at the COP19 in Warsaw. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
WARSAW, Nov 18 2013 (IPS)

Tuesday was Gender Day at the COP19 climate summit in Warsaw, and many of the events that took place in the National Stadium focused on the topic of gender and its relation with climate change, and tried to shed a light on problems that require action from policy-makers.

The day opened with the launch of the Environmental Gender Index (EGI), a project of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Lorena Aguilar, IUCN senior gender adviser, explained it to IPS.

“The EGI is the first index of its kind, bringing together measurements of gender and environmental governance; 72 countries have been rated for six different variables, with each one of its indicators,” Aguilar said at the COP19 United Nations Climate Change Conference running Nov. 11-22 in the Polish capital.

The 72 countries were ranked according to their performance in livelihood, gender rights and participation, governance, gender education and assets, ecosystem and country-reported activities. Each of the variables contains a set of indicators to better define their scope.

For example, the ‘gender rights and participation’ variable looks at whether women enjoy equal legal rights, property rights and balanced representation in the decision-making processes.

The first outcome of this extensive research that should be stressed is that in many cases the highest-income group of countries – the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – recorded rather poor performances in reporting about gender, environment and sustainable development.

This might be due to the “perception that gender equality has already been achieved throughout all spheres in the country, including the environmental sector,” but also to a lack of political will, the report observes.

The top three performers in country-reporting to the Rio Conventions on biodiversity, climate change and desertification and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are India, Kenya and Ghana, while “at the lower end of the scores, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Italy do not address gender in any of their latest three Rio Convention reports,” the IUCN study says.

Yet, poverty still goes hand in hand with gender inequality, when it comes to environmental issues as well. This translates into an index that sees the first positions all occupied by OECD countries, with Iceland, Netherlands and Norway in the top three, and Italy closing the list in the 16th position.

Latin American and Caribbean countries appear in the middle of the ranking, with the exception of Panama being among the strongest performers, right after Italy and followed by South Africa. Eurasian countries are also all ranked as moderate performers, with the best being Romania in the 22nd position and the last Uzbekistan in the 39th.

The list of weakest performers is occupied mainly by MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries, with Yemen second to last in the overall ranking; Asian countries, among which India ranks 46th and Pakistan last of the continent in 67th position; and African countries, which account for most of the weakest performers, closing the table with the Democratic Republic of Congo as the worst performer of the sample.

Gender advocates here at the COP also seem to confirm what the ranking shows. It is in the poorest countries that climate change effects have the most different impacts on men and women.

“Because of the socially constructed roles, women in Uganda are culturally required to provide food, cultivate food, prepare it and serve it to their families,” explains Gertrude Kenyangi from Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN) in Uganda.

“Food, energy and water are interconnected, and if you don’t have these three things, which are made even scarcer by climate change, then you won’t be able to fulfil your role, and that alone will create problems between you and your husband, it will probably make your children destitute, and it will affect your entire livelihood.”

Kenyangi escaped that same fate thanks to an educational programme.

“I myself come from a forest-dependent community, but I broke out of that cycle. I happened to be connected with some religious organisations that sponsored my education.” And this is how, after her studies, she founded SWAGEN, a network of grassroots women community-based organisations.

Grassroots movements are paramount to connecting vulnerable people to the governance level, “but you need to make a deliberate effort to reach out to them,” Kenyangi told IPS.

“For instance, Women in Europe for a Common Future (WESC) is a platform that brought me into the debate, so I can bring in the grassroots dimension. Without their support I wouldn’t have the money to come on my own, I couldn’t afford the ticket, the accommodation, not even the registration to this event.

“That’s what changes the vicious cycle – if somebody intervenes from the outside, appreciating that we are all living on this planet and have just one planet,” she said.

Despite the name, WECF’s reach goes way beyond Europe, connecting more than 150 organisations and communities all over the world with the aim of influencing gender-sensitive environmental policies at the international level.

What they want to remind policy-makers of is that climate change is caused by life’s day-to-day decisions and has an impact on everybody’s daily life. But because women and men often have different lifestyles, their activities have a different impact on the environment.

While from a Western point of view it might be hard to imagine how climate change effects can have a different impact on men and women, in many parts of the world, such as areas where subsistence farming is carried out by women, the relationship becomes clearer.

Maira Zahur is part of the GenderCC delegation here at the COP, but back home she works on the policy level with the Pakistani government as an expert on disaster risk reduction.

“In simple terms, I advise them on how to use certain policies on the ground, how they can benefit women, how they should be revised, edited or extended, and how they can be taken to the grassroots level, explaining to people what things are there for their benefit,” she told IPS.

Recently, U.N. Women carried out a study on flood early warning systems in Pakistan, looking at different aspects, such as the social composition in the different areas, whether men are based in such areas or are working outside, how women make decisions if there are no men in the home, whether they are able to make their own choices in case of a flood warning or are dependent on males in the home or in the streets.

The study reported that “hesitation about taking women and girls out of the protected environment of homes” was one of the reasons for people not to leave their houses even when they had been warned in advance.

The report further analysed several gender-related issues arising inside relief camps for flood victims, from food access to hygiene implications and security problems faced by women.

“That’s why when you make policies such as early warnings, you need to take into account gender issues,” Zahur underlined.

Women’s involvement at all decision-making levels seems to be, if not a solution, at least a first essential step to addressing these policy gaps.

The attention towards gender-related issues within the climate change debate is growing, as shown by the decision adopted at last year’s climate summit in Doha to promote gender balance and participation by women in the UNFCCC negotiations, as well as by the big turnout at the Workshop on Gender and Climate Change held here on Tuesday Nov. 12.

Yet Zahur seems sceptical about possible advances during the conference. “We are all so involved in plenaries, contact groups, side events, that the basic purpose for which we are here is kind of lost. We need to find solutions that can help people at the grassroots level. That should be the major motivation. But here a lot of blah blah blah is happening, this is so tedious,” she sadly concluded.

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Women Find a Green Midas Touch Tue, 05 Nov 2013 08:03:35 +0000 Naimul Haq Anisa Begum (right) I among countless women leading a green revolution in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS.

Anisa Begum (right) I among countless women leading a green revolution in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS.

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

On a hot and humid day in northwestern Bangladesh, Anisa Begum sits with a group of 25 homemakers, explaining how to use natural fertilisers to increase grain yield.

The 47-year-old mother of two tells them if men can grow crops and make money, so can women. She is a leader of the Common Interest Group (CIG) that brings together women who want to take up farming in this South Asian nation.

Begum has got hands-on training from the local agriculture office on how to maximise crop yield from natural fertilisers. She and nine other successful women farmers last year visited Vietnam, a country known for its efficient grain harvest.“More than two million farmers, 30 percent of them women, are now adopting new technologies in project areas in the northwestern districts.”

“This is a wonderful feeling,” a smiling Begum tells IPS, standing at the courtyard of her home in Islampur village in Rangpur district in northern Bangladesh.

This year she has trained a dozen or so fellow CIG members in the Pairabond area of Rangpur, 255 km from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and says an increasing number of women have been showing interest in new and improved farm practices.

The CIGs, formed with the help of local agriculture offices, are part of a programme to enhance farm productivity for food security in Bangladesh – the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP).

“It is absolutely incredible,” says NATP monitoring and evaluation officer Mizanur Rahman. “More than two million farmers, 30 percent of them women, are now adopting new technologies in project areas in the northwestern districts.”

The areas in greater Rangpur region are known for good quality grains and vegetables, thanks to the soil quality. The nation depends on the farmers of this region for high quality grains and other farm produce.

But traditionally women have been more involved in household work than agriculture. A study titled ‘Economic contribution of women in Bangladesh’ reveals that just about 21 percent of women in rural areas are directly engaged in agriculture compared to 78 percent of men. The study was carried out in 2008 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics with several partners.

So the idea behind the free training to women was also to encourage small entrepreneurship in agriculture. The local agriculture office has been very supportive.

Sarwarul Haque, agriculture officer in Mithapukur sub-district, tells IPS: “Initially we had a hard time convincing women to invest more time in agriculture. We demonstrated how they could adopt new technologies and reap benefits.”

Through the CIGs, women learn new technologies such as cultivating drought-resistant and high yielding aromatic rice, vermicomposting and planting all-season tomato seeds that keep the crop free of the leaf curl disease.

Rowshan Ara, a successful woman agriculturist in Pairabond, tells IPS: “When the demonstrations began in Islampur village, there were hardly any women who showed an interest in agriculture.

“Today out of about 5,500 people in Islampur, 1,200 are farmers, and over 40 percent of them are women involved in farming.”

Before joining the CIGs, many of the women used to be farm labourers, earning as little as Taka 70 (88 cents) a day for 10 hours of physical labour, cultivating and harvesting rice.

A woman farm labourer, depending on the season and the size of the cropland, can make a maximum of Taka 1,500 or 20 dollars a month.

Increasing participation in agriculture has changed things. A woman can now earn anything between Taka 5,000 and 8,000 (64 dollars and 100 dollars) a month by growing fine quality grain that is in great demand abroad.

Momena Begum, 42, says, “I chose vermicomposting and by the end of last year I sold vermin [red earthworms] worth 4,500 dollars. I made a nearly 30 percent profit.”

Vermicomposting has become very popular as farmers reap rich benefits from a healthy soil. It is cheaper than chemicals (less than 25 cents a kg). Producing pest free seeds at home is another popular practice.

Parul Sarkar, Momena Begum’s neighbour in Pairabond, says: “I learnt how to produce natural fertiliser from decomposed water hyacinth. The plants are available in plenty, so there is hardly any need for big investment. The fertiliser gives one and a half times the yield compared to chemical fertilisers in vegetables. With a small investment I started supplying the local market.”

Sarkar made over 380 dollars from the sale of natural fertilisers in the first quarter of this year. The income was in addition to the 90 dollars her husband earned from hard labour harvesting crops.

A growing number of women have been joining the CIGs. From less than 20 such groups in Mithapukur in 2009, the number has now gone up to more than 240.

Such efforts to boost national food production are designed and jointly funded by the World Bank, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the government in a 82.6 million dollar project known as the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP).

Adopting new technology in agriculture has had tremendous impact. Retailers, brokers and wholesalers prefer to market natural fertiliser-based vegetables and grains as they are cheaper compared to crops grown with chemical fertilisers.

“The potatoes and tomatoes grown using natural fertilisers show a healthy and glazed look,” says Raja Miah, a wholesaler in Bogra district. “One can tell the difference.”

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Technology and Innovation Aim at Greater Food Security Sat, 27 Jul 2013 11:21:20 +0000 Cydney Hargis Through a Feed the Future project in Kenya, smallholder farmers, particularly women, are introduced to high-value crops such as orange flesh sweet potatoes that can both boost household food security and increase incomes. Credit: Fintrac Inc.

Through a Feed the Future project in Kenya, smallholder farmers, particularly women, are introduced to high-value crops such as orange flesh sweet potatoes that can both boost household food security and increase incomes. Credit: Fintrac Inc.

By Cydney Hargis
WASHINGTON, Jul 27 2013 (IPS)

In the face of global climate change and currency devaluation, improved strategies are being used to combat high international poverty and malnutrition rates, and to increase global food security. 

The  administrator of  the the U.S. Agency for International Development  (USAID), Dr. Rajiv Shah, this week announced two new innovation labs at Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

“The U.S. has a proud history of providing food and services to the most in need countries,” said Shah at a Feed the Future progress report on Capitol Hill Thursday.  “It will continue to be our goal to modernise and strengthen these programmes, to create a pathway from receiving food when you are hungry to living in a food secure society.”

One of the recently announced labs, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum & Millet is a partnership between the organisation and Kansas State University.

The lab will attempt to find new technologies and techniques for smallholder farmers to use in order to ensure that their productivity of grasses raised for grain, including sorghum and millet, increases in times of climate change.

“The perspective from us is that we think the emphasis that has been given to agriculture is critical, not just for food security but for economic development and growth in developing countries overall,” senior policy advisor on agriculture and food security at the advocacy organisation Oxfam International, Eric Munoz, told IPS.

“We certainly have questions about USAID’s direction, but they are intended to strengthen their direction as opposed to redirect them.”

The second of the two new labs, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security, is a partnership with a number of universities including Michigan State University and the University of Pretoria.  The lab will attempt to improve food security policies and increase private sector investments to support smallholder farmers.

“The food security policy innovation lab is intended to increase the body of knowledge and understanding of the best way to go about influencing policy and what the best ones are to accelerate the impact that we are trying to achieve,” the food policy advisor for USAID’s Food Security Bureau, David Atwood, told IPS.

Both of these labs will focus on Senegal, Niger and Ethiopia.

“If you look at the big food crises, some 17 million people were affected in 2012, including people in those three countries,” Munoz told IPS.  “They have large populations of food insecure and hungry people.  Focusing on those countries makes a lot of sense.”

A gender lens

Launched in 2011, Feed the Future issues annual reports analysing progress during the fiscal year.  The reports outline overall goals for 2015 and yearly targets along the way.

“The programme is still just a couple years in so we are starting to see some nice results, especially on nutrition,” Katie Lee, advocacy and policy coordinator for international development at the alliance of nongovernmental organisations InterAction, told IPS.

“More gendered data were provided in this second progress report, but the data show that work needs to be done to make sure the programme is reaching more women.”

According to the report, Feed the Future has met the majority of the goals it set for fiscal year 2012 in terms of who is receiving aid and how it is benefitting them.  Leaders at the organisation say that they put more of an emphasis on providing food aid to women.

“Women tend to invest more in family and child education and health, so investing in women can really help take the whole development effort a long way,” Atwood told IPS.

According to Feed the Future, women make up 45 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and if they were given the same access to land as men, their agricultural output could potentially reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million.

In 2011, Feed the Future supported a group of 65 female farmers in Ghana for five months by training them in record keeping, planning and management.  The group was eventually able to buy new technologies to increase their rice production.

“The progress report is not just about technology, it’s an opportunity to understand where we can do better,” said Shah at the talk on Capitol Hill.  “We’ve gendered out data and learned that we have a great deal further to go to ensure that every dollar is preferentially benefitting women and girls.”

By fiscal year 2013, Feed the Future hopes to see over 15 million rural households directly benefit from U.S. government intervention, over eight million people apply for technologies or management as a result of intervention, and over 13 million children under the age of five have access to U.S.-supported nutrition programmes.

“We want to ensure that when American assistance touches the lives of the hungry, we help them immediately and help them stand on their own two feet in the future,” said Shah.

“When we lead with our values and we partner with our great academic and scientific institutions, our efforts are recognised an appreciated.”

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Women’s Time Has Come Mon, 17 Jun 2013 18:08:27 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to FAO H.E. Bérengére Quincy. Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to FAO H.E. Bérengére Quincy. Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 17 2013 (IPS)

Closing the gender gap between women and men on agriculture and food security could free over one hundred million people from hunger. 

Women represent 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce yet they have access to disproportionately less land and productive resources, according to FAO’s report The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011.

Not only are they discriminated against in terms of access to credit and land, but they also are burdened with more house and family care chores and are more likely to be in precarious and low-paid employment.

During this week’s biannual conference in Rome, FAO announced the mainstreaming of gender across all its policies and put its gender policy for discussion in front of the national delegations.“In order to close the gender gap, it is not enough to adopt the gender lens." - ActionAid International’s Alberta Guerra

Observers of FAO’s work on gender argue that the organisation has made very good progress over the past years, and that the basic necessary documents and normative frameworks needed for closing the gender gap are now in place.

But care must now be paid to implementation.

“Gender mainstreaming is necessary but not a guarantee,” Berengere Quincy, France’s representative to FAO, tells TerraViva. “The mainstreaming needs to be backed up by better knowledge and expertise and followed up with clear objectives and indicators of progress.”

In many places around the world, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen pointed out in his speech given in Rome at the kickoff of the FAO biannual conference, women are also discriminated against when it comes to nutrition, with men systematically getting the best food. In turn, this weakens women’s chances of meeting their full potential.

FAO’s report quoted above further points out that granting women equal access to land and resources as men would increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, which in turn would lead to raising agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four percent and saving 100 to 150 million people from malnourishment.

In response to these realities – and to pressures from civil society – FAO has over the past two years made significant progress on turning itself into an organisation focused on closing the gender gap when it comes to food security.

The 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture report was for the first time focused on women’s role in the global food system. Importantly, it brought quantitative data to support the idea that empowering women contributes significantly to FAO’s mission of defeating hunger, which in turn contributed to gender issues being embraced across FAO departments.

In 2012, the organisation published a Gender Policy which aims to both prioritise gender issues in the FAO’s own structure and programmes and to increase capacities for promoting gender equality in the countries where FAO operates.

Several countries (Switzerland, Norway and the United States) as well as the European Union warned that clear targets and implementation mechanisms, alongside a sufficient budget, are crucial to add to the current plans if FAO is serious about gender equality.

This year’s conference is expected to endorse a budget for 2014/2015 that would leave the amounts for gender issues unchanged from the previous budget period 2013/2014, that is, 21.8 million dollars.

This amount represented a doubling of the 9.8 million dollars corresponding to the 2010/2011 following pressures of gender rights supporters within and outside FAO, and represents a 2.1 percent of the overall net appropriation. Over the next years, FAO is expected to set a target for gender spending which could even exceed the 2.1 percent.

ActionAid International’s Alberta Guerra, whose group has been advocating for a gender policy and gender mainstreaming at FAO for years, says that it is important that the organisation keeps up the momentum of promoting gender equality.

That would mean paying attention to implementation of the current commitments and making sure that a solid budget comes together with the objectives stated out in the policy documents.

“In order to close the gender gap, it is not enough to adopt the gender lens. It is essential that, in addition to that, interventions that target, specifically, women’s needs are put into place,” Guerra says.

“The policy is very forward looking. It’s not just a policy for FAO, but a policy for its members, a policy which tries to set objectives and goals that everyone concerned about food and agriculture is trying to achieve,” says Eve Crowley, FAO deputy director for gender, equity and rural development.

“It’s important to build a momentum around these objectives and goals among all stakeholders.”

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Digging Deep for New Conflict Sat, 16 Mar 2013 18:55:04 +0000 Pierre Klochendler The Palestinian village Zaatara at the foot of Herodion. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

The Palestinian village Zaatara at the foot of Herodion. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

By Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM, Mar 16 2013 (IPS)

If Herod the Great was a controversial figure of his time, 2,000 years on the controversy isn’t about his legacy; it’s about who holds the rights to excavate and preserve his artefacts.

A new exhibition at the Israel Museum which, for the first time, displays the king’s relics, might serve as a great tribute to him, but is also a powerful reminder of how the history of the Holy Land and today’s conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have become intertwined.

On top of a hill “raised to a greater height by the hand of man; rounded off in the shape of a breast,” as Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian of Rome described it, the old monarch had a fortress-palace erected as memorial for himself; and named it after himself – Herodion for Herod.

Herodion, from where the bulk of the exhibition originates, is visible from Jerusalem and dominates the Judaean desert, since 1967 part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which the Palestinians seek as part of their future state.

Herodion is in Area C, namely 62 percent of the West Bank maintained under full Israeli control since the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords. An Israeli military base protects the site.

The Holy Land changed hands time and again since Herod’s time, but at 758 metres high, the lay of the land looks unchanged – at first glance.

Dotting the surroundings, Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages vie for rights to the land.

Appointed by the Romans, Herod ruled the vassal kingdom of Judaea, part of the Palaestina province of the Roman Empire, for 33 years between 37 and 4 BCE.

“He was a cultural bridge, working on both sides, caught between the exigencies of the Roman Empire and that of Judaism,” says David Mevorah, the exhibition’s curator. “By his people he was regarded as a convert Jew; by Rome as a client king. But Judaea prospered in his time.”

Exquisite tableware from glass and fine and glossy red roman pottery; a statue of Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt; a decorated basin, a gift from his patron Emperor Augustus, whose bust is on display; his royal highness’s bath – all were found in situ.

Adorned with stucco and rare frescoes of sacred landscapes and navy battles painted with pigments on plaster, also imported from Herodion is the royal chamber.

The jewel of Herod’s crown, so to speak, is the reconstruction of his mausoleum which sheltered what archaeologists believe is the sarcophagus in which his body was placed. The man surely possessed a taste for the arts – even on his deathbed.  “He was very aware of historic memory,” comments the curator.

Here nowadays, historic memory refers mostly to competitive national quests.

Excavations at Herodion began in 1972 under Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer. “No one asked us or consulted us, then or now,” protests Jamal Amro, a Palestinian scholar from Bir Zeit University familiar with the site.

“The Israelis plundered Herodion,” he adds. “Israel uses archaeology to shape history and validate the country’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

After prolonged exploration, Netzer uncovered Herod’s tomb in 2007. Two years later, he died in tragic circumstances at the site.

It took three more years to move some 30 tonnes of carved masonry from Herodion to the museum. “We actually moved thousands of fragments to our laboratories, working intensively from here on restoration and reconstruction,” says Mevorah.

“We’ve performed quite an important role for world cultural heritage,” says Israel Museum director James Snyder. But the self-complimentary effusion has been short-lived.

Palestinians complain that Israeli archaeological activities in Palestinian territories are illegal. “According to international law, this is a crime,” declares Amro. “Israel must recognise the rights of the Palestinian nation to their historical sites.”

The Israeli government lists Herodion as a national heritage site. Granted full membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Palestinian Authority now wants to nominate Herodion for recognition as a world heritage site.

“The Oslo Accord makes Israel responsible for custodianship over archaeology in the West Bank until a final settlement is reached,” retorts Snyder.

A ruthless ruler who had the last lineage of the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled before him executed, including high priests, opponents, his beloved second wife and three of his children, Herod was feared by his subjects. In Christianity, he’s ‘Horrid Herod’, thought of as a serial baby killer.

At the museum, he is mostly remembered as a master builder for his colossal projects, including expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem revered in Judaism. Centuries later, the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary would be edified on its ruins.

For Amro, “Herod and Herodion are important not only to Jews but to Christians and Muslims. We should be in charge.”

“We borrowed the artefacts as authorised loans; we’ll retrocede them once the exhibition wraps by year’s end,” assures Snyder.

The question is where the relics will be returned to, and to whom. “To the authority in charge of archaeology in the West Bank,” clarifies Mevorah. That is, to the ‘Civil Administration’, a well-known euphemism for Israeli military authorities in the West Bank.

“They’ll never give back the artefacts to us, forget it,” protests Amro, not sure himself whether “it” refers to the site and its treasures or to the West Bank.

“When Israel signed the Camp David peace accord with Egypt in 1979 and withdrew from Sinai,” recalls Snyder, “there was a very intelligent division of material: what related to Egyptian heritage was returned to Egypt; what related to Jewish heritage stayed with Israel.”

Would such a model be applicable to Israel and Palestine were peace to be signed between them? “I’m just a museum director, but it was well done,” says Snyder.

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Taking the Knowledge of Doha Back to Kenya’s Rural Communities Wed, 28 Nov 2012 13:37:15 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi Turkana women in Kenya. Turkana district was one of the hardest-hit areas in the Horn of Africa in the 2011 drought that affected the entire region. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Turkana women in Kenya. Turkana district was one of the hardest-hit areas in the Horn of Africa in the 2011 drought that affected the entire region. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Mantoe Phakathi
DOHA, Nov 28 2012 (IPS)

The skyscraper Qatari capital city of Doha is a far cry from Cecilia Kibe’s home in Turkana district, a remote area in Kenya inhabited by mostly nomadic communities and pastoralists hit hard by the effects of climate change.

But the agriculturalist-cum-sociologist has come here to the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), thanks to funding from the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice (MRFCJ), to sit and listen as scientists, researchers, top government officials and activists argue their case.

Kibe is on a mission – to gather as much knowledge as possible to share with the women in her community. Turkana district was one of the hardest-hit areas in the Horn of Africa in the 2011 drought that affected the entire region.

According to Oxfam International, Turkana district has gone without good rain for about five years. And this has affected the community severely. In 2011 the United Nations news agency IRIN reported “Turkana has experienced malnutrition rates of up to 37.4 percent; the highest recorded in 20 years and more than double the U.N. World Health Organization emergency threshold of 15 percent.”

Back in Turkana district, Kibe runs an information-sharing network that she started because she refused to allow herself and the other women in her village to continue suffering from hunger as they repeatedly lost their crops in the prolonged drought.

“Most women in African rural communities still attribute the impact of climate change to different myths, including that God is upset with people,” Kibe told IPS.

“I work with 4,000 champions (women) who educate their fellow community members and help them come up with adaptation strategies,” she said. She named her organisation Kenya Climate Justice Women Champions, and has now expanded her network to benefit over 3,000 households.

“In turn the women identify their areas of need and, based on the information I get from international conferences such as this one, we start projects that address those challenges,” said Kibe. The projects are funded by MRFCJ.

She said that often the information from conferences such as COP 18 does not filter down to the people most affected by climate change.

“We need to get the information from this conference to help them understand what exactly is happening,” said Kibe.

Top of Kibe’s priority list of things to tackle is food insecurity. And the cultivation of cassava, a drought-tolerant crop, has been identified as part of the strategy to combat this. Previously people in Kibe’s area grew maize, which often failed because of the lack of rain.

Another priority is addressing water insecurity, Kibe said. Back home, women and children have to travel long distances to fetch water, which in many cases is contaminated.

“We have introduced solar water cleaning, which is a technology that uses a device that easily purifies water when placed in the sun,” explained Kibe. “It’s just a press of a button.”

Women are also encouraged to plant five trees each to combat carbon emissions.

What Kibe is doing is important. According to Trish Glazebrook, a researcher from the University of Texas:  “Knowledge transfer is very important because we know that in as much as women need to adapt, they also have to mitigate through climate smart technologies for their farming and sources of domestic energy.”

She told IPS that women in sub-Saharan Africa are not only victims of climate change, but are also contributing to pollution because they lack the technology to improve their farming methods and remain heavily dependent on agriculture, a sector that contributes to global emissions.

But Robinson, who was the first female president of Ireland, said Kibe’s story was a compelling case of why women should be adequately represented at the COP 18.

“A lot of rural women like Cecilia are doing a lot of work on the ground to adapt, but they are hardly recognised and they work with limited resources,” Robinson said.

Speaking at the first ever Gender Day at COP 18 on Nov. 27, Robinson called for more active participation of women in the conference. For more than 10 years gender organisations have advocated aggressively for this day to be recognised in the climate negotiation process.

“We need gender balance in all the UNFCCC bodies, including the attendance,” she said.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, concurred.

“It’s very dumb not to maximise the participation of a group that is over 50 percent of the world population,” she said.

She said she was proud that the gender text was included in the UNFCCC process, although the words needed to be transformed into action.

Mozambican Minister of Environment Acinda Abreu said that society as a whole needed a mind shift to allow women to make meaningful contributions at all levels of the climate change process.

“Adaptation strategies should prioritise the farmers, particularly women who are mainly into subsistence agriculture, and the communities they live in,” she said.

The special advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Francois Rogers, told IPS that women from all walks of life have to be adequately trained to give them the capacity to participate in policy-formulation processes at the local, regional and international levels.

“It should not be just about meeting quotas, but we should ensure that they have confidence in understanding the issues so that they can fully participate in the decision making,” he said.


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Women Hit Hard by Natural Disasters Sat, 13 Oct 2012 15:35:04 +0000 Malini Shankar Forty-nine percent of all disaster survivors are women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Forty-nine percent of all disaster survivors are women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Malini Shankar
BHUBANESWAR, India, Oct 13 2012 (IPS)

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, women are often the most vulnerable. Particularly in rural areas, women suffer disproportionately from inadequate shelter and poor sanitation facilities and are often tasked with rebuilding shattered homes.

The theme for this year’s international day of disaster reduction, led by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), is more relevant than ever: ‘Women and Girls: The [in]Visible Force for Resilience’.

Across India, droughts and floods – which Rajan Joshua of the Society for Education and Development (SEDS) described as “two sides of the same coin” – have put scores of women at risk, but also highlighted their ability to endure and adapt to even the most harsh conditions.

Vikrant Mahajan, chief operating officer of Sphere India, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation working on disaster relief operations in the subcontinent, told IPS, “Forty-nine percent of all disaster survivors are women”, many of whom face extreme challenges in the post-disaster period.

While conducting field research for her PhD, Parimita Routray, a student of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Bhubaneswar, encountered shocking tales from rural women across the eastern state of Orissa, which is prone to floods, sea surge, storms, cyclones and seawater incursions.

“I have seen fisher folk using the beach for defecating and using sea water for cleansing,” Routray told IPS. “During my field visits, I have not come across a single water or sanitation programme for fisher folk.”

The lack of facilities itself is a “disaster in the making”, especially in a state that is susceptible to a host of natural catastrophes, she added.

“Women from the Kusupur village in the Puri district of Orissa, told me they find it extremely difficult to manage in flood or cyclone shelters, especially during their (menstrual cycle),” Routray added.

“All kinds of people (live) in those shelters and there is no privacy. A woman by the name of Pramila Pradhan in Puri district told me that women often avoid eating during the day to ensure that they can use the cover of darkness to answer nature’s call.”

At nightfall women must bear the additional risk of encountering floating animal carcasses or live snakes struggling to survive in receding waters. Without proper toilets they are also more likely to contract waterborne diseases, and must guard against epidemics like cholera, malaria, dengue and diarrhoea.

Crime rates, too, rise inevitably along with floodwaters, often hitting women hardest.

Mamata Nayak, the village council chief in Chahabatia village in Puri, told Routray that when outdoor areas used as toilets are submerged by floods, whole families are forced to defecate on dried cow dung cakes inside their homes, and then dispose of the waste in the water outside.

The Kosi River flood, which impacted over 3.3 million people in India’s western Bihar state in 2008, highlighted another aspect of women’s vulnerability to natural crises.

For miles around, agricultural fields were submerged in silt, leaving millions homeless and preventing farmers from cultivating their fields. The desilting process has not been completed to this day, forcing men to migrate in search of employment.

The women left behind were tasked with repairing homes that had been destroyed in the floods, as well as running households on next to nothing.

Even today, “Women (lament) that government officials who interview them for compensation demand that they produce property papers (land deeds) in order to legally claim compensatory housing,” Jaya Jha, coordinator of collaborative advocacy with Sphere India told IPS.

“These women are now desperately in need of shelters, water and sanitation. Inadequate power supplies and a dearth of health care services are worsening the situation,” she added.

Because they bear the brunt of disasters, women are determined to find ways to mitigate the effects of natural calamities.

Mamtha Kulkarni, a Bangalore-based advocate hailing from the Gadag district in northern Karnataka, a highly drought-prone and arid region, told IPS, “Water supply is reliable only twice a month and rainfall is so scanty that growing water-hungry crops like rice and green vegetables is impossible.”

“So instead, women in the villages cultivate gherkins, onions, garlic, tomatoes and aubergines. The only fruit we can grow is bananas. All our food recipes utilise these commodities to balance our nutrition needs – our staple diet includes maize flour-based steamed cakes and lentil salads,” she said.

Annie George of Building and Enabling Disaster Resilience of Coastal Communities (BEDROC), an NGO involved in tsunami relief in the town of Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, believes women-led efforts are the best solution.

“Recovering and strengthening traditional skills is far more sustainable than developing alternate skills and livelihoods. Protection, promotion and expansion of livelihoods should be the approach (…).”

Strong policies, legislation and other supportive structures and networks are “essential and the governments should take this aspect very seriously”, she added.

In the Anantapur district of the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh – a region afflicted by drought in six out of every 10 years – droughts and floods are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

“For SEDS (located in Anantapur) it was clear that the women and the community as a whole need to be able to produce, reproduce and invent ways to mitigate disturbance of their livelihoods as a result of climate variations,” SEDS CEO Manil Jayasena Joshua told IPS.

“We support community organisations, (traditional) agricultural practices, natural resource management and health services,” Joshua stressed.

“All our projects, programmes and trainings are aimed at promoting self-reliance for rural women in the disaster-prone Anantapur district. An integrated approach is essential for long term disaster risk reduction,” he added.


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Q&A: Disaster Resilience Starts with Grassroots Women Sat, 13 Oct 2012 13:46:13 +0000 Julia Kallas From left to right, Haydee Rodríguez, Violet Shivutse and Josephine Castillo. Credit: Julia Kallas/IPS

From left to right, Haydee Rodríguez, Violet Shivutse and Josephine Castillo. Credit: Julia Kallas/IPS

By Julia Kallas

Women and girls can be powerful agents of change, but they are disproportionately affected by disasters because of social roles, discrimination and poverty.

The International Day for Disaster Reduction on Saturday this year celebrates the theme of ‘’Women and Girls – the [in]Visible Force of Resilience’’.

IPS correspondent Julia Kallas sat down with three women – Josephine Castillo, grassroots community leader and organiser with DAMPA in Manila, Philippines; Haydee Rodríguez, president of the Union of Women’s Cooperatives, Las Brumas, in Jinotega, Nicaragua; and Violet Shivutse, leader and founder of Shibuye Community Health Workers in Kenya – to talk about the importance of girls and women as actors and leaders for resilience.

Q: You all come from very different backgrounds and contexts. Can you briefly talk about the main challenges you face in regard to building resilience in the community you live in?

JOSEPHINE CASTILLO: I am one of the board directors of my community’s association. It is a homeowner’s association, we have 421 community members and everybody owns their land since 1995. This is due to a successful programme that our association made with the national government, which provided women with mortgages to buy their houses.

We have programmes that bring our community together in case a disaster hits us. We train quick response teams with the collaboration of our local government and our resilience programmes have also a partnership with the Huairou Commission and GROOTS International.

In August, people affected by the floods in Manila were bought to our resettlement sites, which rescue families affected by flooding and earthquake. Natural disasters are happening more often because of climate change so we need to have climate adaptation, disaster mitigation and resilience programmes.

HAYDEE RODRIGUEZ: I am the president of the Union of Women’s Cooperatives, “Las Brumas” in Jinotega, Nicaragua, and we have created 20 grassroots women’s cooperatives with a total of 1,200 associated women and other 960 that are indirectly associated.

In our community we are facing a lot of difficulties with climate change and land ownership allocation. So through our resilience work we created a programme to cultivate food and medicine plants in the houses of our community as well as a programme to help build a better dialogue between community and government.

We have also succeeded in inserting grassroots women to participate in governmental parties. The next elections, which will take place on the 4th of November, have the involvement of 14 grassroots women inside of the parties.

VIOLET SHIVUTSE: When I used to work in an office that registered farmers, I came across lots of working pregnant women who were having problems giving birth. Most of them died during delivery, others had complicated births when the child died or the women had been sick for a long time after.

The main problem was to help and ensure that these women reached the local hospital, because the distance and the high cost of the services did not encourage them. Then I started thinking how we could help these women who are very important for the community. So that is how I started getting involved with community work and women’s health issues.

HIV/AIDS funds, food security, periods of drought and flooding are the biggest problems in my community. Water, sanitation and hygiene are also big problems for children in schools. When I realised these problems were rising, I brought grassroots women together to work on the development of our community. We started a community-based organisation called the Shibuye Community Health Workers, which today brings together 2,036 grassroots women in Kenya who work on these issues.

Q: Why is it important to focus on women and girls in the context of disaster reduction?

JC: Because women and girls are the most affected when it comes to disaster. They need to be prepared and trained. We don’t like to say that we are vulnerable, but we are. When we talk about resilience work we are not only talking about natural disaster. Lack of education also means disaster. Woman and girls cannot get jobs if they are not educated. That is also why women need to be involved in international conferences, to show our needs and fight for our rights.

HR: Women resilience work is important because we need to work for our lives and the lives of our community. Women need to work in resilience because if we do not take care of water, for example, there will be no cultivation and if there is no production, there is hunger.

VS: We believe that resilience starts with women. They are the ones taking care of the rural communities because men migrate to the urban areas to find jobs. So the impact of disaster for women and girls is very high. We encourage women to work in groups so they can understand how to build resilience. Resilience means having food in their houses, resilience means establishing food storages, resilience means identifying natural resources and protecting them. We also believe that it is important to teach our girls the importance of resilience work so when they become adults and mothers they can help their communities.

Q: What is the road to building efficient women-led resilience projects?

JC: It is important to have collaboration and partnerships with local government, institutions and organisations around the world. Also, local to local dialogue is very important. Organisations have to focus on more than one issue, because focusing in only one issue can burn them out, and if that issue is solved you have nothing else to work on. Our programmes came from our people, not from our funders.

HR: I believe we need to work on encouraging women to able to participate of decision making and leadership positions. Organisations should support and encourage women innovations by providing them with resources .Also, grassroots women should share their work and projects with other communities in order to help others developing resilient work too.

VS: First, we need to educate women and girls… because if they are not educated they cannot get involved in community work. Second point is to make women stronger politically and economically. Give them more value and equality within the work environment.

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Malawi’s Heroines of the Floods Sat, 13 Oct 2012 08:13:58 +0000 Mabvuto Banda The January floods resulted in the contamination of water sources in Nsjane, including boreholes and dug-out wells, thereby escalating the cholera incidents. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

The January floods resulted in the contamination of water sources in Nsjane, including boreholes and dug-out wells, thereby escalating the cholera incidents. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
NSANJE, Malawi, Oct 13 2012 (IPS)

For many women in Malawi’s disaster-prone southern district of Nsanje, resilience is essential to survive the cyclical flooding.

Twenty-four-year-old Chrissie Davie, a mother of four, saved two of her three children from drowning when water filled her house as she slept early this year.

About 6,157 families lost their property, over a thousand hectares of crop fields were ruined and 343 houses were destroyed in a matter of minutes when tropical cyclone Funso from the Mozambican channel landed on southern Malawi in January. The region is hit annually by high rainfall around this time of year.

“Water came so quickly that by the time I woke up, it was too late for Chimwemwe, my youngest son,” she told IPS.

Chimwemwe was already dead when she reached to pull him out of the floodwaters.

He was only 18 months old.

Davie used an empty drum to float her two remaining children, four-year-old Saulos and two-year-old Moses, to safety.

Chrissie Davie now lives in a makeshift shelter with her children after floods destroyed her house in January. Courtesy: Mabvuto Banda

She reached Chikoje, one of the schools in Traditional Authority Mbenje, southern Malawi.

But within hours, she, together with the others who sought safety there, abandoned the school when the floodwaters rose. They walked for hours to reach a Malawi Defence Forces emergency camp called Nyatwa.

Sandram Chale recalls how in 2003 his wife saved him when flash floods hit their village in Nsanje.

“My wife firmly gripped my right hand and dragged me out of the water that had filled our house as we slept…I was too drunk, too weak to swim,” Chale said. He was talking about the flooding caused by two weeks of torrential rains that destroyed thousands of homes in eight districts, leaving 300,000 people destitute, eight people dead and several missing.

Dorothy Chale did not only save her husband. She also saved her four children from drowning when raging waters crashed into their home after the banks of the Ruo and Shire rivers burst.

These are some of the untold stories of extraordinary bravery by women in this part of the country. But they are not the only ones coping in times of disaster here.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), this landlocked, resource-poor southern African nation is vulnerable to a wide range of shocks and disasters, including yearly flooding and drought once every three to five years.

“Although the likely impact of climate change cannot yet be specified for Malawi with a high level of confidence, forecasts for southern Africa indicate that it is likely to face some of the most extreme climate changes,” the UNDP says.

Because 65 percent of the country’s population live below the poverty line, with an overwhelming large percentage of Malawi’s 16 million people located in rural areas and dependent on maize for their livelihoods, there is a need to “elaborate a national disaster risk reduction strategy and integrate it in government policies and programmes,” according to the UNDP.

Malawi began prioritising risk reduction in 2009, and the country’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs was allocated about 99,000 dollars to raise awareness for disaster risk management in the 2011/2012 budget.

About 3.2 million dollars is set aside for responding to disasters, according to a joint report by the Malawi Economic Justice Network, Christian Aid and the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy. However, this is retained by the Treasury and not the disaster management department.

“The Department of Disaster Management Affairs needs to have its own vote with adequate resources for their activities other than waiting for the same from the Treasury. This would enhance their programming as some of the disasters have actually become very predictable of late,” stated the report titled “2011/2012 Draft National Budget Analysis with Focus on Climate Change”.

Agnes Chembe, 25, has learned through bitter experience the devastating consequences of these “predictable” disasters.

“My house used to be close to the river, but it was swept away during the last floods. It was destroyed,” she told IPS.

She is now living in a grass house about a kilometre from the Shire River.

It is the third time she has been forced to move because of flooding. Like most of the villagers in Nsanje, she now uses local knowledge to prepare for the next floods.

“I know for instance that the coming rainy season will not bring devastating floods like last year’s,” she said.

“But I am already preparing to move upland before disaster strikes,” said the mother of three who lives alone with her children. Her husband, she said, works in Blantyre, the country’s commercial capital, and only returns home once every six months.

District Commissioner for Nsanje Rodney Simwaka described the women in this region as invisible heroines.

“We always look at them as the victims and ignore their resilience in surviving these disasters because most of these women are home alone, their husbands are in town working when floods hit,” he told IPS.

“In most instances it is a woman who makes plans to move some property to another house on the high land, it’s a woman who uses local knowledge on how to survive and save her children first,” said Simwaka.

James Chiusiwa, of the Department of Poverty Management and Disaster Preparedness, agreed.

“What these women do is extraordinary, especially when you look at the fact that they are the most vulnerable in such situations. They survive the floods, continue to feed the family, and sustain the household all the time,” he told IPS.

On Oct. 13 the International Day for Disaster Reduction focused on highlight the need for women and girls to be at the forefront of reducing risk and managing the world’s response to natural hazards. Cyclical natural disasters are not a new phenomenon and it is not uncommon for rivers in this part of Malawi to burst their banks.

However, a recent increase in the frequency and intensity of floods has made the area both dangerous and difficult to farm, according to group village headman Osiyina

“We used to have floods every five years, but now they come almost every year,” he told IPS. “They are also a lot more violent and bigger than before and are now a serious threat to the livelihood of our villages, especially the women and children.”

Davie knows that her village is in a disaster-prone area and she always prepares for the worst. But she breaks down when she remembers how her child died, because she blames herself for being unable to save him.

“This is what I fear most all the time. I cannot afford to lose another child to floods and that in a way is my motivation to stay strong and to be always ready to survive against all odds when disaster strikes,” she said.


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Rural Women in Peru Cope “Where Life Is Very Sad” Fri, 12 Oct 2012 17:01:43 +0000 Mariela Jara By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Oct 12 2012 (IPS)

When the crops in her rural highlands community in southern Peru were covered with a thick layer of ice one night, Felícitas Quispe, 43, organised her neighbours to make an effort to keep people from starving to death.

It’s been two years since the 2010 freeze left her and dozens of families without corn, potatoes or beans to cover their needs, and without pasture to graze their animals in the rural town of Chare, more than 3,500 metres above sea level in the Andean department of Cuzco.

“There was no food, so the women went with the leaders of the community to the civil defence institute and the agriculture ministry. We got new seeds that are still producing our food today, and we continue to burn manure to produce smoke to protect the crops from freezing,” she told IPS.

Quispe is the president of the Qamayoc Association that provides technical assistance in animal health, the use of medicinal plants, and decent housing for women in local highlands communities, where “life is very sad” because of the poverty, and where even water is scarce, she said.

Indigenous women in rural Peru have to walk longer and longer distances to find firewood. Credit: Elena Villanueva/IPS

“We don’t want handouts from the government – that breeds idleness. We want gender equity, training for women, education and healthcare; we don’t want our children to die because they can’t get medical attention, since it takes a day to walk down from the mountains to reach a health clinic,” she said.

Although Peru has managed to reduce under-five child mortality by 76 percent, severe inequality and high levels of rural poverty pose serious risks to children in areas vulnerable to climate swings and weather disasters.

According to the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, children represent 65 percent of those affected by climate disasters, which in the last 10 years have affected 64 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The largely indigenous population of Peru’s southern Andean region is in danger. The region of Puno, over 4,000 metres above sea level, is experiencing freezes that have ruined crops and killed babies. In March, health authorities reported 31 deaths of children from pneumonia.

Ricardina Bedoya, a 64-year-old peasant farmer who lives in the Puno community of Arboleda, is among those who have been facing difficulties.

She lost her crops in the 2011-2012 harvest season when lake Umayo overflowed its banks due to intense rainfall. The grass that her livestock grazed rotted at the roots, and her potato, quinoa, barley and oca – a tuber grown like potatoes – crops were destroyed.

Her land was under water, she had no crops to take to the market, and she was forced to sell off her animals at a low price.

“We had nothing to cook, the kids got sick with whooping cough and bronchopneumonia, and many died before making it to the health post,” she told IPS. “It’s really hard, but we want our daughters to learn to cope with the problems nature throws at us, and to continue on with their lives, their growing of food, their education.”

Although her community had taken prevention measures, these fell short given the magnitude of the flooding. Now they are preparing to apply for government support, to build sheds for the animals and plant crops in new areas.

The efforts of Felícitas Quispe in Cuzco and Ricardina Bedoya in Puno are an illustration of the initiatives led by women who are taking an active role in the face of complex situations that experts attribute to climate change.

Although women are hit hardest by the effects of floods, freezes or drought, they are the ones who assume the responsibilities of feeding and taking care of their families and communities, said Castorina Villegas López, coordinator in Peru for Groots International (Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood), a U.S.-based grassroots women’s leadership development and networking project.

Saturday Oct. 13, International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, is dedicated by the United Nations to “Women and Girls – the [in]Visible Force of Resilience”, to highlight the role that women and girls play in risk reduction.

Women and girls “organise themselves on the basis of their capacities and skills, and respond, for example, by contributing to food security. And they do this despite the gender inequality that is ignored by society, by the government and by men,” Villegas López told IPS.

In observance of the International Day of Rural Women, Monday Oct. 15, organised groups of Peruvian peasant women will present an agenda of proposals on five climate change-related areas.

IPS had access to the document, signed by women farmers from southern departments (Arequipa, Apurímac, Cuzco and Puno) and northern departments (Cajamarca, La Libertad, Lambayeque and Piura), which calls on local, regional and national authorities to take into account the gender differentiated impacts of global warming, and to apply public policies to put an end to the neglect that rural women suffer.

The five areas covered by the proposals are food security, natural resources, agricultural production and trade, women’s work in the field and the home, and living conditions.

The rural women are asking for a strengthening of irrigation infrastructure, the construction of family and community water storage reservoirs, reforestation with native species, upgrading of housing, access to agro-ecological techniques and inputs, and participation in decision-making spaces, among other things.

Rural girls and women have the highest illiteracy rate in the country: 14.4 percent, compared to 7 percent for the overall population, according to the National Households Survey of 2010. And 75 percent of illiterate people in Peru are women, according to the Defensoría del Pueblo (ombudsman’s office).

Meanwhile, only 63.7 percent of births in rural areas are attended by skilled health personnel, and 19 percent of adolescent girls have been pregnant, according to the ministry of women and vulnerable populations.

“Women have aptitudes that must be strengthened,” and they have “concrete proposals that are contained in their agenda, which the authorities must take into consideration,” said Blanca Fernández of the Centro Flora Tristán women’s centre.

Among the eight objectives of the National Plan on Equality and Gender 2012-2017, approved by the government in July, is recognition of the contribution of rural women to the sustainable management of natural resources.

To that end, the plan proposes that the proportion of women who receive training and technology transfer be increased by 30 percent over the next five years, and that a disaster response and risk prevention plan with a gender focus be designed.

Fernández believes these targets are important, but says that meeting them depends on political will. “Budget funds are needed to make rural women a priority,” she said. “Otherwise, we will not be able to make progress towards the diverse, intercultural Peru that we want.”

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U.N. Chief Fires Up Private Investment for Global Energy Solutions Wed, 26 Sep 2012 16:40:05 +0000 Kim-Jenna Jurriaans By Kim-Jenna Jurriaans

Following a lukewarm outcome of the Rio+20 sustainable development negotiations in June, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is moving full-steam ahead on a new initiative aimed at leveraging public-private partnerships to bring modern energy to over one billion people by 2030.

Newly-appointed Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All, Kandeh Yumkella (right), addresses assembled dignitaries at the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and World bank President Jim Yong Kim will provide additional leadership to the energy initiative. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Under the moniker Sustainable Energy for All, the new initiative aims to establish universal access to modern energy, double the share of renewable energy worldwide and double the rate of improving energy efficiency over the next two decades.

“Our goals are ambitious,” Ban told country leaders during a high-level discussion on the initiative taking place on the sidelines of the 67th General Assembly in New York on Monday.

In all, the effort will target the approximately 1.3 billion people currently living without access to electricity, 95 percent of whom reside in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia.

“We have come a long way, but we have a long road ahead,” the U.N. chief said, referring to gains made since the launch of the initiative last year, which have surpassed expectations for 2012, according to Ban.

So far, over 60 developing countries have signed on to the initiative and upward of 50 billion dollars have been committed by businesses and investors for the global effort that aims to entice the private sector to invest heavily in energy solutions by partnering with public and philanthropic institutions to mitigate investment risks.

In order to provide universal energy access by 2030, investment of 48 billion dollars per year will be needed, according to a vision statement by the secretary-general released at the launch of the initiative.

While that number sounds large – it is five times the investment brought together for expanding energy access in 2009 – it’s only three percent of total global energy investment, according to the statement.

New leadership

To give permanent leadership to the initiative, Ban on Monday appointed Kandeh Yumkella, current director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), as new special representative and CEO of the effort.

In addition, the Secretary-General himself and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will co-chair a new board to provide strategic guidance, Ban told assembled dignitaries.

Kim called access to energy crucial for economic growth and poverty eradication, referring to both as “the problems of our time”.

Yumkella’s first goal as full-time captain of the initiative is to utilise its 30-member board to grow the existing coalition of partners, including governments, private sector and civil society, the special representative told IPS.

The initiative will have a “solid private sector approach … with clear milestones and meetings every six months,” according to Yumkella, who says the board is particularly zeroing in on current barriers to private investment.

At the same time, he aims to build “a network of networks” for sustainable energy finance that builds on proven strategies.

Need for funding

Developing countries came out in strong support of the initiative on Monday, but also reminded assembled leaders of the unequal burden falling on them to deal with the effects of climate change.

“We are the countries who contribute least to greenhouse emission and are yet hit by it hardest,” the permanent representative of Swaziland said on Monday. “We therefor appeal to our developed partners for support.”

Affected by the global economic crisis, Swaziland is struggling to meet food needs while also trying to grow a green economy.

While the initiative will provide both financial and technical support to countries developing their energy sector, Yumkulla underlined that “this is not an aid model” but one in which donors commit their money to leverage private capital for energy projects.


As partner institution, the World Bank, in June, committed to doubling its energy investment to 18 billion a year, with an emphasis on low-carbon energy.

The African Development Bank aims to invest 20 billion in energy by 2020, which it thinks will leverage 80 billion dollars in partnerships.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, meanwhile, is throwing eight billion dollars at the issue over the next three years.

On the private side, Bank of America has will invest approximately 35 billion dollars into renewable energy, efficiency and access over the next 10 years.

Chairman of Bank of America Corp. Charles Holliday – who saw the initiative through its first year – will continue as chairman of its new executive committee.

Women to benefit most

As women make up two-thirds of the world’s poor, lack of energy access causes an unequal drain on women’s time and opportunities, according to Sheila Oparaocha, coordinator of Energia International, a network on gender and sustainable energy that’s a partner to the initiative.

Yet, “across the board, we find that existing energy policies don’t address women and the poor,” Oparaocha told IPS.

Energy solutions ought to target cooking needs and small-scale businesses, she said, adding that real participation of women in energy decision-making is crucial for better governance of the energy sector as a whole.

Rio+ 20

Hopes for increased government investments in a comprehensive sustainable development agenda were shattered in June when Northern governments – mired in a global financial crisis – barely agreed to reaffirm their commitments made 20 years ago.

The secretary-general’s sustainable energy initiative is now focusing on what many post-Rio perceive as the only viable alternative to bridging the finance gap for sustainable development initiatives: leveraging private investment for social good.

About 100 companies and institutions have so far signed onto the initiative – one of the initiative’s biggest achievements to date, Yumkella says.

The other is Monday’s high-level discussions itself – “getting diplomats and world leaders together in New York, and there is no talk about oil and gas but energy for development.”

As a cross-cutting issue, energy solutions influence all of the Millennium Development Goals world leaders are struggling to accomplish by 2015.

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