Inter Press Service » Women & Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Sep 2014 21:32:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:28:39 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136714 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/feed/ 0 Human Rights and Gender Equality Vague in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:49:41 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136501 By Ida Karlsson
BRUSSELS, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

With the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda currently under discussion, civil society actors in Europe are calling for a firmer stance on human rights and gender equality, including control of assets by women.

“The SDGs are a unique opportunity for us. The eradication of extreme poverty is within our grasp. But we still face very major challenges. Business as usual is not an option,” Seamus Jeffreson, Director of Concord, the European platform for non-governmental development organisations, told at a meeting in Brussels with the European Parliament Committee on Development on September 3.

An Open Working Group has been set up by the United Nations to come up with a set of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by the target date of 2015.“We need to address women's control over assets. The majority of farmers in the world are women but they do not own the land. There is legislation that prevents women from inheriting property" – Seamus Jeffreson, Director, Concord

Development organisations in Europe say a rights-based approach need to be strengthened in the proposed new SDGs or there is a risk these could be traded off in negotiations with major powers that are less committed to human rights.

“We do not see the spirit of a human rights-based approach infusing the other goals. It should underpin the SDGs. The connection is not made that people have rights to resources. We cannot have a development agenda without people’s rights being respected,” Jeffreson said.

Jeffreson’s complaint was echoed by Thomas Mayr-Harting, European Union Ambassador to the United Nations. “From our point of view, a rights-based approach and governance and rule of law need to be better represented in the SDGs.”

While Concord welcomes a specific goal on gender equality within the SDGs, “more details are needed for this to be a goal and not just a slogan,” Jeffreson told IPS. “We need to address women’s control over assets. The majority of farmers in the world are women but they do not own the land. There is legislation that prevents women from inheriting property.”

The European Union will produce a common position before inter-governmental negotiations start. Further input will come from a High-level Panel set up in July 2012 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015.

“We now look to Ban Ki-moon to play a core role in bringing this process together,” said Mayr-Harting, adding that Sam Kutesa, Ugandan foreign minister, who will chair the UN General Assembly from mid-September, will play also an important role.

Ajay Kumar Bramdeo, ambassador of the African Union to the European Union, who also attended the meeting in Brussels, said that more than 90 percent of the priorities in the common African position have been included in the proposed new set of development goals, including its position on climate change.

“The negative impact of climate change is already being felt in countries in Africa. The European Union has been an important historical, political, economic and social partner for Africa and would also feel the impact of climate change on Africa,” he added.

Kumar Bramdeo emphasised the need to mobilise financing from the developed countries through the Green Climate Fund of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), transfer new clean technologies, and enhance disaster risk management and climate adaptation initiatives.

Ole Lund Hansen, representing the UN Global Compact at the meeting, stressed that the SDGs would not be achieved without the active participation of the world’s business sector. “Some figures say we need 2.5 billion dollars per year in additional investments to achieve the SDGs. We clearly need to tap into the vast resources of the private sector.”

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda which, among others, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030.

There are currently 17 new goals on the drafting board, including proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Women – the Pillar of the Social Struggle in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:23:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136498 Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In few places in Chile are women the pillars of community, grassroots rural and environmental movements as they are in the southern wilderness region of Patagonia. It is a social role that history forced them to assume in this remote part of the country.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this territory was inhospitable,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS. “And they also had to take on the responsibility of the social organisation of the communities that began to emerge.”

“The men worked with livestock or in logging and they would leave twice a year for four or five months at a time. So the women got used to organising themselves and not depending on men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Women in this region not only raise their families and run the household but also shoulder the tasks of producing and managing food and natural resources – raising livestock, growing and selling fruit and vegetables, collecting firewood – used to heat homes and cook – and making and selling crafts.

The region of Aysén, whose capital, Coyhaique, is 1,630 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chilean Patagonia. It is home to 91,492 people, of whom 43,315 are women, according to the last official census, from 2002.

According to Torres, “70 or 80 percent of community, grassroots rural and environmental leaders and activists” are women, who were the core of the month-long mass protests that broke out in Aysén in 2012, posing a major challenge to the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).
The Aysén uprising began on Feb. 18, 2012, after months of demands for better support for development in this isolated region and subsidies for the high cost of living in an area lacking in infrastructure and subject to low temperatures and inclement weather.“This is a region of enterprising women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.” -- Miriam Chible

“There were nights when it seemed like we were in a war,” said Torres, who helped reveal, in her programme on the Santa María radio station, the harsh crackdowns on the demonstrators in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region.

For 45 days Torres broadcast coverage, night and day, on what was happening in the region. “There were accounts from people who were beaten, shot, arrested, women who were stripped naked in front of male police officers,” she said.

In her coverage of the protests, Torres saw local women taking on a central role in the demonstrations against the central government’s neglect of the region.

“It was women who were leading the roadblocks, organising the marches, the canteen, the resistance, caring for the injured,” she said. She was referring to the movement brought to an end by the government’s promise to listen to the region’s demands – although two and a half years later, “it has only lived up to 15 percent of what was agreed.”

The 40-year-old Torres, who studied design and tourism, started to work in the media in Caleta Tortel, the southernmost town in Aysén. She worked at a community radio station there, but her opposition to the HidroAysén project, which would have built five enormous hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Patagonia, forced her into “exile”.

“We were activists, and we produced a programme informing people about Endesa [the Italian-Spanish company that was going to build the dams] and reporting on dams in other parts of Chile and the world. But it had political costs and I lost my job. I came back to Coyhaique without work, without anything,” said the married mother of two.

Torres, who describes herself as “Patagonian, messy, foul-mouthed, disheveled, ugly and happy,” continued the struggle against the dams and is now on the Patagonia Defence Council, which finally won the fight against HidroAysén when the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled the project on Jun. 10.

Now Torres is the owner of a gift shop and forms part of the Aysén Life Reserve project, focused on achieving sustainable development in the region by capitalising on its wild beauty and untrammeled wilderness by preserving rather than destroying it.

Mirtha Sánchez, a 65-year-old obstinate smoker, told IPS that life here is better now than when she was a little girl.

“I was five years old when I came to Coyhaique to live, and then I moved with my mother to Puerto Aysén, where she opened a boarding house that catered to workers,” Sánchez, who sees the strong role played by Patagonian women as a regional trademark, told IPS.

A decade ago she sold her business in Puerto Aysén and moved back to Coyhaique. She now runs a hostel that only brings in income in certain seasons.

“I thought it would be more restful, but it wasn’t,” she complained. “This region has changed radically. The nouveau riche, with created interests, have arrived,” she added, refusing to elaborate.

She defends the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet), saying “Aysén started to improve in that period, and it has gone downhill in recent years.”

Miriam Chible, 58, disagrees with that assessment. She believes the region “has only good things to offer.”

Chible is an example of Patagonia’s women leaders. She told IPS that when she was widowed, she and her four children successfully ran a restaurant that is not only the leading eatery today in Coyhaique but is also an example of sustainable development.

She works tirelessly for the region to achieve energy and food sovereignty, forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation established by Bachelet in May, and participates in initiatives to create a model of alternative economic development for Aysén.

“I’m not an expert in anything, but I care, I’m an involved citizen,” said Chible. Her new partner is also a social activist, who goes around the country drumming up support for Aysén’s demands for respect for its right to development free of invasive and destructive projects.

“Sometimes people ask me ‘how’s your issue going, the dam thing?’ and they’re wrong, because it’s not ‘my issue’. Excessive industrialisation in the region of Aysén will hurt us all, which is why we have to fight to stop it,” she said.

Her three daughters and one son share the work of purchasing food, serving the tables, and running the restaurant. One of her daughters also manages a small ski rental and tour business.

The hard work has borne fruit: the ‘Histórico Ricer’ restaurant is one of the best-known businesses in the region, and its quality locally-based products are celebrated by locals and outsiders alike.

“This is a region of enterprising women,” said Chible, “women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.”

“That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s where we’re headed,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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With Sewing and Sowing, Self-reliance Blooms in Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 06:46:24 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136467 Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

In the small rural village of Svetlaya Polyana, not far from the city of Karakol in Issyk Kul Province, north-eastern Kyrgyzstan, there is no sewage system and 70 percent of households lack access to hot water.

But still, gardening efforts are underway. In the houses of the women members of the community fund you can see seedlings of cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper and even some flowers being prepared for planting in the soil.

There are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. -- International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
These women are taking part in one of several agricultural trainings to learn how to plan vegetable gardens, prepare the soil, find good-quality seeds, plant and care for vegetables, as well as gardening tips, recipes and more.

“We all have learned a lot. Now I know what to do to get a good harvest,” said one beneficiary. “Now I have a beautiful and eco-friendly garden, I have healthy vegetables for my family that I know how to plant myself and I do not have to buy anything more at the bazaar.”

Through collective vegetable cultivation, their harvest in 2013 garnered a profit of 48,000 Kyrgyz SOM (about 930 dollars), which was put back into community projects and to buy high-quality seeds.

The small businesses established through the programme are now generating employment in this rural area, increasing independence and boosting household income not only in summer but also during the harsh winter months, when preserved vegetables and fruit jams are sold.

“The [...] project is highly important for the development of our community,” says Jylkychy Mamytkanov, head of the municipality of Svetlaya Polyana. “Programme participants have managed to build solidarity and mutual assistance among themselves. … Moreover, the income that we have already received from selling our vegetables will allow our community to make new investments in the future, such as construction of greenhouses.”

Across Central Asia, many families and individuals living in poverty migrate in order to find work. According to the IOM, there are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. Migration provides a vital source of income, but those left behind often feel dependent and have a hard time making ends meet.

To tackle such challenges, the Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) was created in 2010, with the second phase currently underway, until March 2015.

Jointly implemented by UN Women, the World Bank and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with financial support from the UK Government, the programme focuses on reducing poverty by improving the livelihoods of migrant workers and their families, protecting their rights and enhancing their social and economic benefits.

The regional migration programme focuses on families from the region’s top two migrant-sending countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2011-2013 more than 5,324 labour migrants’ families in both countries received training, access to resources and micro-credits and became self-reliant entrepreneurs through the programme.

The RMP programme also promotes policy development, provides technical assistance and fosters regional dialogue on migration and the needs of migrant workers across Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. In those four countries, more than 520,000 migrant workers and their families have benefitted from a wide range of services, including legal assistance and education.

Dreams and designs in Tajikistan

Born in the remote district of Gonchi, northern Tajikistan, Farangis Azamova had a dream of becoming a designer, but with no means to finance university studies, the young rural woman had to find another means to realize her dreams.

With assistance from the Association of Women and Society, a long-time partner of UN Women and beneficiary of the regional migration programme, Farangis and five like-minded women established a community-based “self-help group” to sew curtains.

They took part in various seminars, learning how to set up, plan and manage a business. They rented a small place and established an atelier.

At first they sold curtains to neighbours, but with time their clientele grew. In June of 2014, her group took part in the annual traditional ‘Silk&Spices’ festival in Bukhara, eastern Uzbekistan, which brings together handicrafts from the entire Ferghana Valley.

It was an exciting opportunity for young women entrepreneurs to exchange experiences, learn to become more competitive in the labour market, take craft-master classes as well as present their handicrafts and find new buyers.

(END)

                                 This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, visit the Beijing+20 campaign websiteimage002

 

 

 

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Nepal Landslide Leaves Women and Children Vulnerablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:50:55 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136342 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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Bangladeshi Girls Seek Equal Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 04:08:07 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136315 Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
RANGPUR, Bangladesh, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Until five years ago, Shima Aktar, a student in Gajaghanta village in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh, about 370 km northwest of the capital Dhaka, was leading a normal life. But when her father decided that it was time for her to conform to purdah, a religious practice of female seclusion, things changed.

The young girl, now 16 years old, says her father pulled her out of school at the age of 11 and began to lay plans for her marriage to an older man “for her own protection” he said.

Born to a hardline Muslim family, pretty, shy Shima might have taken these changes in stride – were it not for the support of a local youth advocacy group.

Called ‘Kishori Abhijan’, meaning ‘Empowering Adolescents’, the project is a brainchild of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and educates young people on a range of issues, from gender roles, sex discrimination and early marriage, to reproductive health, personal hygiene and preventing child labour.

“The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].” -- Shireen Huq, founding member of Naripokkho, a leading women's rights NGO
Now that she knows her rights, Shima is fighting hard to assert them, joining a veritable army of young women around this country of 160 million who are determined to change traditional views about gender.

Besides the Empowering Adolescents initiative, other grassroots schemes to educate communities on the rights of women include groups that practice interactive popular theatre (IPT), designed to address social issues at a local level.

Using a mix of popular folk tales and traditional songs and dancing, the actors perform for their parents, local officials and other influential community members, determined to have their voices heard by breaking out of the box.

The Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), an NGO working in a remote part of the Rangpur district, recently put on a public performance to illustrate the need to abolish the dowry system, and boost female participation in the public workforce.

Thousands of women here live under the shadow of dowry-related violence. The Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) reported some years ago that the practice of dowry leads to torture, acid attacks and sometimes even murder and suicide.

The year 2011 saw 330 deaths of women in dowry-related violence. The previous year 137 women were killed for the same reason, according to the largest women’s rights NGO, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. The NGO also reported 439 cases of dowry-related violence in 2013.

Very often, women are either killed or commit suicide when they are unable to pay the full price of the dowry.

Mohammed Rashed of CMES believes that educating people as to the impacts of traditional practices and ideas can stem such unnecessary tragedies.

“By involving parents, teachers, community and religious leaders and government officials in awareness campaigns we have been able to bring positive changes,” he told IPS.

Already, efforts to spread awareness are bearing fruit. According to UNICEF, some 600,000 adolescents around the country, 60 percent of them girls, are now educated on issues like the legal marriage age of boys and girls, as well as the importance of education and family planning, as a direct result of grassroots advocacy.

Between 64 and 84 percent of adolescents interviewed by the Dhaka-based NGO Unnayan Onneshan claimed that dowry practice had decreased in their communities since 2010.

Policies driven by demands to increase girls’ education have also enabled a much higher rate of female participation in schools.

In 1994 the government introduced the Female Secondary School Stipend Programme – funded by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Norwegian government – that offered adolescent girls a small amount of money every six months to stay in school.

Although urban and rural disparities still exist, the average primary school enrollment rate for girls is now as high as 97 percent, one of the highest in the developing world.

The field of reproductive health and rights has also witnessed improvements. The presence of skilled birth attendants in rural areas has increased from less than five percent in the early 90s to 23 percent today, while contraceptive use among women has dramatically increased from a mere eight percent in 1975 to about 62 percent in 2011.

Despite these achievements, girls still lag behind their male counterparts throughout much of the country.

Child mortality, for instance, remains much higher among females than males, with 16 deaths per 1,000 live births for boys and 20 deaths per 1,000 live births for girls, according to a 2010 study by Unnayan Onneshan.

World Bank data from 2010 shows that 57 percent of women participate in the labour force, while men show a much higher rate of employment, at 88 percent.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist, told IPS, “Despite the impressive gains, women and girls continue to be discriminated [against]. The result manifests in the unacceptably high number of maternal deaths [and] the dropout rate for girls in secondary schools.”

A 2013 ministry of health report found the maternal mortality rate (MMR) to be 170 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 574 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990.

Meanwhile, some 66 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday, giving the country one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

Huq, a founding member of Naripokkho, a leading NGO on the rights of women, also said, “The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].”

Experts believe it is important to involve women at every level of decision-making, including in Union Councils (UC) – the smallest administrative units in Bangladesh – which could enhance women’s participation in public life.

Some 67 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by UNICEF in 2010 felt that female members of the UCs should be given more representation and power to make decisions for their communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caregiving Exacerbates the Burden for Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:46:05 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136246 Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Hortensia Ramírez feels like she needs more hands to care for her 78-year-old mother, who suffers from arteriosclerosis, do the housework, and make homemade baked goods which she sells to support her family.

She starts her day at 6:00 AM, putting the sheets that her mother wet during the nighttime to soak, before preparing the dough for the pastries and making lunch for her two sons; one works in computers and the other is in secondary school.

“Two years ago I quit my job as a nurse because my mother couldn’t be alone, and although I have a brother who helps with the expenses, I provide the day-to-day care,” the 57-year-old, who separated from her second partner shortly before her mother started to need round-the-clock care, told IPS.

“Since then my life has been reduced to taking care of her, but it’s more and more complicated to put food on the table and to get her medication – and don’t even mention disposable diapers on my limited income…Well, let’s just say I end my day exhausted.”

Like the majority of middle-aged Cuban women, Ramírez feels the burden of domestic responsibilities and family care, exacerbated by economic hardship after more than 20 years of crisis in this socialist country.

The burden of caretaking traditionally falls to women, which sustains gender inequalities and makes women vulnerable to the reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008, aimed at boosting productivity and the efficiency of the economy, but without parallel wage hikes.

The reduction of the number of boarding schools where students combine learning with agricultural work in rural areas, the closure of workplace cafeterias, and cutbacks in the budget for social assistance have left families on their own in areas where they used to receive support from the state, and which affect, above all, the female half of the population of 11.2 million.

“The state is passing part of the burden of caregiving and healthcare and education to families, but economic development should take into account the contributions made by families,” economist Teresa Lara told IPS.

If no one cooks, takes care of the collective hygiene, helps children with homework or cares for older adults and the ill, then the workforce won’t grow, the expert said.

Cuban women in the labour market

- In Cuba there are 6,976,100 people of working age, and the active population amounts to 5,086,000. Of the 3,326,200 women of working age, 1,906,200 have remunerated work.

- Women who work in the public sector are mainly concentrated in services, where they total 1,071,400.

- Over 31,000 Cuban women belong to cooperatives, 175,500 work in the private sector, and of this group, 73,300 are self-employed.

- And of the 1,854,753 homemakers, 92 percent are women.

- Of the 67,664 unemployed women in the country, 19,360 were heads of households.

Sources: Statistical Yearbook 2013 of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) and Census on Population and Housing 2012

But these tasks, which almost always fall to women, remain invisible and unpaid.

Cuban women dedicate 71 percent of their working hours to unpaid domestic work, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study, whose results remain valid today according to experts, found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

Based on those tendencies, Lara estimates that unremunerated domestic work and caregiving would be equivalent to 20 percent of GDP – a larger proportion than manufacturing.

And that percentage could be even higher today given the complexity of daily life in Cuba, the economist said.

Without laundries, dry cleaning services, industries that produce precooked foods or other services that ease domestic tasks at affordable prices, Cuban families have to redouble their efforts to meet household needs.

To that is added the rundown conditions of homes for the elderly and public daycare centres and the reduction of the state budget for social assistance, from 656 million dollars in 2008 to 262 million in 2013, according to the national statistics office (ONEI).

Women often end up stuck in lower level jobs, or dropping out of the job market altogether, because of the burden of caretaking for children, the ill or the elderly, on top of the other household duties.

Many women find it hard to cope financially with the burden of caregiving, in a country where the average monthly salary is 20 dollars a month while the minimum amount that a family needs is three times that, even with subsidised prices for some food items and services.

ONEI statistics show that the female unemployment rate rose from two percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2013, parallel to the drastic pruning of the government payroll, which could soon bring the number of people left without a job up to one million.

Although the number of areas where private enterprise or self-employment is permitted was expanded, they do not guarantee social security coverage. Nor do they tap into the expertise accumulated by women, who make up over 65 percent of the professional and technical workforce in this Caribbean island nation.

Sociologist Magela Romero says that burdening women with the social role of caretaker buttresses the unequal power relations between the genders, with economic, emotional, psychological and sexual consequences for women.

A qualitative study of 80 women from Havana carried out by the university professor in 2010, which IPS saw, concluded that a number of those interviewed were caught up in an endless cycle of caregiving: after they completed their studies they spent the rest of their lives raising children and taking care of parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, spouses and other family members.

This situation is especially complex in a country with an aging demographic, where 18 percent of the population is over 60 and 40 percent of households include someone over that age.

Adriana Díaz, an accountant, was only able to work in her profession for less than a decade.

“First my kids were born, and I raised them. Then I got divorced and I went back to work for four years, which were the best years of my life. But when my mother fell seriously ill, I quit again,” the 54-year-old told IPS.

Nearly nine years taking care of her mother round the clock left Díaz with a bad back and cardiovascular problems. Besides the fact that she is entirely dependent on her children, who moved abroad.

Social researcher María del Carmen Zabala says the gender gaps in employment that are a by-product of the fact that the responsibility for caregiving falls almost exclusively on women require policies that specifically address women, in line with the changes currently underway in the country.

Citing the rise in the proportion of female-headed households to 45 percent, according to the 2012 Census on Population and Housing, Zabala said specific policies targeting these families are needed, because they are especially vulnerable.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Gender Equality Gains Traction with Pacific Island Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 11:35:59 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136042 Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

A pledge by political leaders two years ago to accelerate efforts toward closing the gender gap in the Pacific Islands has been boosted with the announcement that three women will take the helm of the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, headquartered in Suva, Fiji.

At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Palau, former Papua New Guinean diplomat and World Bank official, Dame Meg Taylor, was named the new secretary-general, taking over this year from the outgoing Tuiloma Neroni Slade. Taylor, who will hold the post for three years, joins two female deputy secretaries-generals, Cristelle Pratt and Andie Fong Toy.

The appointment is a significant breakthrough for women in the upper echelons of governance. According to Pratt, the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 leaders’ summit in the Cook Islands has galvanised leadership action on the issue.

“A positive change has been the indirect creation of a peer review process on gender at the highest level,” Pratt told IPS, adding that gender equality is “slowly gaining traction at the central policy making level”, as high up as the prime minister’s office in some Forum countries.

Raising the status of women in the Pacific Islands is an immense challenge, given that the region has the lowest level of female political representation in the world at three percent, compared to the global average of 20 percent.

Furthermore, violence against women is endemic and they are poorly represented in formal employment. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a gender inequality index of 0.617 and Tonga 0.462, in contrast to the most gender equal nation of Norway at 0.065.

The declaration is a sign of greater recognition by the male political elite of the critical role women have to play in achieving better human development outcomes across the region.

National leaders have committed to reforms, such as adopting enabling measures for women’s participation in governance and decision-making at all levels, improving their access to employment and better pay, and supporting female entrepreneurs with financial services and training. They have also promised to deliver improved legislative protection against gender-based violence and support services to women who have suffered abuse.

“What is significant about the declaration is that leaders have taken it on board as a priority and I believe our leader took it seriously and followed it through with a law change in Samoa,” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s minister of justice and veteran female parliamentarian, told IPS.

Last year a law was passed in Samoa reserving 10 percent, or five of a total of 49 seats in parliament for women.

“It is a significant step in that it provides a ‘floor’ as opposed to a ‘ceiling’ and there will never be less than five women in any future parliament,” she continued. “It is important that women are in parliament to be seen and heard and to serve as evidence that it can be done.”

Women’s low political representation ranges from two percent in the Solomon Islands to 8.7 percent in Kiribati, with no female political representation at all in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, with populations of 103,000 and 247,000 respectively.

Contributing factors include entrenched expectations of a woman’s place in the domestic sphere, low endorsement from political parties and the greater difficulties women have in accessing funding and resources for election campaigning.

There has been incremental progress in other countries with last year witnessing the first female elected into the parliament of Nauru -the smallest state in the South Pacific – in three decades, and three women winning seats in the Cook Islands national election this July.

Women’s participation in local level governance received a boost in Tuvalu after the government passed a law requiring female representation in local councils. Blandine Boulekone, president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, noted that women gained five of a total of 17 seats in the Municipal Elections held in the capital, Port Vila, in January.

Gender parity in education, necessary for improving women’s status in all areas of life, has, according to national statistics, been achieved in most Pacific Island states, except PNG, Tonga and Solomon Islands, with girls outperforming boys at the secondary level in Samoa and Fiji.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Islands Forum reported last year that “higher education for young women does not necessarily lead to better employment outcomes due to gender barriers in labour markets”, with most countries reporting less than 50 percent of women in non-agricultural waged jobs.

Last year Samoa passed legislation against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while similar draft legislation is being developed in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Pratt also claims there has been good progress with “the enactment of domestic violence legislation in Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.” Last year domestic violence also became a criminal offence in PNG following the passing of the Family Protection Bill.

Sixty to 75 percent of women in the region experience family and intimate partner violence. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by early marriage, the practice of ‘bride price’, low levels of financial independence and women’s inadequate access to justice systems.

However, Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, commented, “As practitioners on the ground, we can say that while all these policies and legislations look great on paper, the implementation is another matter.”

“One also needs to invest financially to ensure new legislation and policies are effective.”

Fiji has had a domestic violence decree since 2009, but Ali said, “While most magistrates and judges deal well and follow the new decrees, there are many who still display traditional entrenched views regarding rape and domestic violence and often injustice is meted out to survivors, particularly for ‘sex crimes’.”

Law enforcement is a great challenge, too, especially in rural communities.

“Women, girls and children in rural and maritime areas have little recourse to justice for crimes of violence committed against them due to lack of police presence and resources in these areas,” she said.

Pratt agrees that the road to real change in the lives of ordinary Pacific women is a long one.

“The declaration is still new and there is a need for more awareness, advocacy and accountability toward meeting the goals,” she emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: For Nigerian Girls, Education Is the Key That Opens Doors to Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-for-nigerian-girls-education-is-the-key-that-opens-doors-to-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-for-nigerian-girls-education-is-the-key-that-opens-doors-to-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-for-nigerian-girls-education-is-the-key-that-opens-doors-to-progress/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 21:46:50 +0000 Nnenna Agba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135972 This op-ed was written on behalf of five Nigerian sisters in their quest to get an education]]>

This op-ed was written on behalf of five Nigerian sisters in their quest to get an education

By Nnenna Agba
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

I grew up in Nigeria, in a culture where bearing a son validates a woman and her family, and a male innately holds the superior position in society over a female. At 11 years of age, I escorted my mother to deliver her fifth baby girl, my youngest sister, and watched our mom die in the hands of an unfit doctor.

My mother had succumbed to the confines of her society; even though she already had four healthy daughters, having a son was a traditional standard she was determined to achieve, even at the expense of her life. Realising the underlying factors that subjected her to such a predicament presented a vivid picture of my position as a girl in Nigerian society.

Courtesy of UN Women

Courtesy of UN Women

Almost immediately, the importance of education took on a different meaning in my life and in the lives of my four sisters. I went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and a Master’s of Science in Urban Affairs.

With my education, I have been able to sponsor my younger sisters’ education in Nigeria, thereby increasing our likelihood of having a progressive future that far surpasses the traditional limitations defined by our society.

For Nigerian girls like my sisters and I, education is the key that opens the door when an opportunity to succeed beyond customary expectations knocks.

Education is a fundamental right, to which I firmly believe we should be naturally entitled. It is the only chance most Nigerian girls have to rise above the cultural and traditional system of stratification that continue to cast women as inferior to their male counterparts, economically, politically and socially.

Women who have been able to escape such subjugation have done so mostly by being empowered through education. A good education offers Nigerian girls the opportunity of being valued members of their society and for this vital reason I am devoted and driven to ensure that my sisters continue with their studies.

For girls in Nigeria and around the world, education can enable economic independence, pave the way for political participation, and empower both men and women with the necessary knowledge to actively and effectively oppose oppressive norms that perpetuate different forms of violence against women.

And in contrast to the culture of gender inequality that persists in Nigeria, education serves as an avenue of exposure to a cultural alternative. Nigerian girls stand to benefit from this exposure, and the possibility of such enlightenment poses a major threat to extremist groups such as Boko Haram.

Though we dream and yearn for the miracle of immediate solutions, I know that change does not occur by magic, nor does it take place overnight; rather it requires the dedication of time and relentless collective effort. My mother’s death is a product of unjust societal norms that facilitate perverse gender inequality. A society’s customs are engineered by its past generations, and in the same fashion its future citizens can redefine the culture that rules them by cultivating a new norm through education.

I am an optimist and I believe it is possible to change the world, to better the status of women globally and particularly in places like Nigeria. This is not because I am naive or unaware of the shortcomings of many efforts to effect change.

My optimism stems from a desperate place—a core belief that the world as a whole, leaders and citizens, must awaken to the urgent need to end injustice against women. For me, necessity and possibility have become synonymous because living with the consequences of gender inequality makes it all the more obvious that change is imperative.

While my heart bled over the sorrow captured in the “Bring Back Our Girls” cry for help, my mind desperately indulged in a renewed hope that Nigeria might no longer ignore the agony of women and girls. Unfortunately, it often takes the presence of pain to garner the passion of a nation to vehemently advocate for change and demand action by its government.

Although Boko Haram is perceived as an opponent to progress, the greater obstacle lies in a broader reluctance to take action in protecting girls in Nigeria who simply want an education.

Nigerian girls, like my sisters and I, desire and deserve for our aspirations of becoming valued members of society to be realised. Education is the vehicle towards living this dream.

Raised in Nigeria, Nnenna Agba gained popularity when she went on the widely watched television show America’s Next Top Model. With hard-won scholarships, she graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry; she also holds a Master’s of Science degree in Urban Affairs. Nnenna is supporting the education of her four sisters in Nigeria, and is the face of Kechie’s Project, an NGO that provides scholarships to girls from Nigerian schools.

Beijing20Logoen-100x100This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, check out the In Focus editorial package on The Girl Child on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.

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Cash Transfers Drive Human Development in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cash-transfers-drive-human-development-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-transfers-drive-human-development-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cash-transfers-drive-human-development-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:49:41 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135850 The Morro de Vidigal favela in Río de Janeiro. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

The Morro de Vidigal favela in Río de Janeiro. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

Every day, Celina Maria de Souza rises before dawn, and after taking four of her children to the nearby school she climbs down the 180 steps that separate her home on a steep hill from the flat part of this Brazilian city, to go to her job as a domestic. In the evening she makes the long trek back up.

For 25 years, Souza has lived at the top of the Morro Vidigal favela or shantytown, located in the middle of one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro.

In this favela, home to some 10,000 people, the houses, many built by the families themselves, are squashed between the sea and a mountain.

Originally from Ubaitaba, a town in the northeast state of Bahia1,000 km north of Rio de Janeiro, Souza, 44, left her family when she was just 17 to follow her dream of a better life in the big city.

She was part of the decades-long massive wave of people fleeing drought in the impoverished Northeast to make a living in the more industrialised south.

“I’m tired of living in the favela,” she complained to IPS. “I dream of one day having a house with a room for each of my kids. I tell them to be responsible and to study so they won’t suffer later. I wish I could go back to school, but it’s hard for me to find the time.”

Souza, a mother of six children between the ages of 12 and 23 – the oldest two have moved out – has a monthly income of around 450 dollars a month.“This money helps me a lot. They criticise it, saying it’s charity, but I don’t see it like that. You have to work too. With the Bolsa money, I buy school supplies, food, and clothes and shoes for my children. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a huge help.” - Celina Maria de Souza

Nearly half of that comes from Bolsa Familia, a cash transfer programme created by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) when he first became president and continued by his successor Dilma Rousseff.

In 2013 Bolsa Familia reached its 10th anniversary as the leading social programme in this country of 200 million people.

It benefits 13.8 million families, equivalent to 50 million individuals – precisely the number of people who have been pulled out of extreme poverty over the last decade.

But 21.1 million Brazilians are still extremely poor, according to the latest official figures, from 2012.

The International Social Security Association (ISSA), based in Switzerland, granted a prize to Bolsa Familia in October for its contribution to the fight against poverty and support for the rights of the most vulnerable.

According to ISSA, it is the world’s largest cash transfer scheme, with a cost of just 0.5 percent of Brazil’s GDP. The programme’s 2013 budget was 10.7 billion dollars, and it is currently part of the Brasil Sem Miséria (Brazil Without Poverty) umbrella programme.

“I had heard of it and they told me it was a subsidy that the government gave kids who were enrolled in school and vaccinated regularly. We were really doing badly, we didn’t even have enough to eat,” Souza said.

For over a decade, her children have benefited from Bolsa Familia. The family initially received a total of just 40 dollars, but the amount has steadily increased. Souza, who has been married twice, has raised her children alone since breaking up with her second husband.

“This money helps me a lot,” she said. “They criticise it, saying it’s charity, but I don’t see it like that. You have to work too. With the Bolsa money, I buy school supplies, food, and clothes and shoes for my children. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a huge help.”

Souza hasn’t forgotten the days when she went hungry, or the occasional nights when she had no roof over her head – both she and her two older children, when she separated from her first husband. “I told my children: eat, because just seeing you get some food nourishes me,” she said. Now she and the four children still at home live in a crowded two-room house.

The residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, many of which are built on steep hillsides, climb up and down long stairways every day like this one in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, many of which are built on steep hillsides, climb up and down long stairways every day like this one in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Souza, who had very little formal schooling, works mainly in the informal sector, although when she first came to the city she found a job in a women’s accessories factory. She is constantly battling poverty, and hopes that her children will have better opportunities.

She is one of the innumerable examples of Brazilians who are trying to improve the lives of their families, while this country attempts to revert years of neglect and a historical lag in human development.

Thanks to this effort, South America’s giant has moved up on the Human Development Index (HDI).

In the latest HDI report, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Jul. 24, Brazil ranked 79 among the 187 countries covered.

But in Latin America, Brazil is behind Chile (41), Cuba (44), Argentina (49), Uruguay (50), Panama (65), Venezuela (67), Costa Rica (68) and Mexico (71).

Andréa Bolzon, coordinator of the Atlas of Human Development in Brazil, told IPS that the country has made significant progress in the last 20 years.

The Atlas draws up Brazil’s contribution to the Human Development Report, which includes the HDI. The theme of this year’s report was Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience.

Underlying the improvement, she said, “are policies that were implemented, like the increase in the minimum salary, affirmative action measures to reduce racial inequality, the boost to employment and Bolsa Familia itself.”

The HDI, created in 1980, is a measure derived from life expectancy, education levels and incomes. In 2013, life expectancy in Brazil averaged 73.9 years, schooling averaged 7.2 years, and gross national income per capita was 14,275 dollars.

Between 1980 and 2013, Brazil’s HDI value increased 36.4 percent. In 1980 life expectancy was 62.7 years, schooling averaged 2.6 years and GNI per capita was 9,154 dollars.

“Brazil is one of the countries whose human development has improved the most over the past 30 years,” said UNDP representative in Brazil Jorge Chediek during the presentation of the data in Brasilia.

But inequality is still a huge problem in Brazil, Bolzon said. “We have to invest in universal quality public systems, especially in health and education, because they have effects on other indicators.”

The increase in the years of schooling among families is precisely one visible change, she said.

“We see it from generation to generation in the same family,” she said. “People who studied very little have children who have more years of schooling; there is a big difference in terms of education.”

Souza and her family fit that pattern: she has a fifth grade education, while her 12-year-old daughter is in sixth grade today.

“I studied very little; I had to drop out when I was 12 to work, because I had to help my parents put food on the table,” said Souza. “I want my kids to have much more than I had – a good education and good jobs.”

Isis, her youngest daughter, knows all about the difficulties her mother has faced and the sacrifices she makes in order for them to have a better life. “I love going to school, and I love math. When I come home, I help my mom and I tidy up the house. My mom tells us to study a lot to have a better futrue. I know what her life has been like, and I do that,” she told IPS with a smile.

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Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:07:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135791 The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

New legislation recently passed in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) outlawing polygamy has been welcomed by experts in the country as an initial step forward in the battle against high rates of domestic violence, gender inequality and the spread of AIDS.

“If polygamy remained acceptable, wives would never speak for their rights and they and their children would continue to be silent victims of violence,” Dora Kegemo and Dixie Hoffman of the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Programme in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, told IPS. “So banning polygamy under this new law will help to empower women.”

The Civil Registration Amendment Bill makes it compulsory to register all marriages, including customary ones. Marriages involving more than one spouse, however, will not be recognised. The government believes this move will also help to increase the registration of births in a country where an estimated 90 percent of the population do not have birth certificates.

Formal identification of children is urgently needed to begin improving a range of human rights and child protection issues in PNG, such as child labour and trafficking. It is estimated that children make up about 19 percent of the labour force here. Two years ago, a study in the capital, Port Moresby, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), revealed that 43 percent of children surveyed were engaged in commercial sexual exploitation.

Until the law was passed, customary marriages, including polygamous ones, which are common in rural areas, were not officially recorded. Polygamy is particularly prevalent in the mountainous highlands region where men have traditionally taken up to five or six wives in order to increase agricultural productivity and better manage the domestic responsibilities of large extended families. Studies over the past decade suggest that an estimated 25 percent of unions in the highlands are polygamous.

But Jack Urame, director of the Melanesian Institute in the Eastern Highlands, who personally supports the government’s move to ban polygamy, says that its practice today has changed under the influence of the cash economy and western notions of commodity wealth.

In the past, “only the big men or the leaders and those who had the economic strength to take care of the women would have many wives,” he explained. But now the practice is prone to greater abuse when men use cash to acquire multiple wives as a means of displaying monetary wealth.

These marriages do not last, Urame said, and when they break down children are affected. “Many children who come from such broken marriages are disadvantaged and this contributes to the many social problems [we face].”

Domestic and gender violence affects up to 75 percent of women and children in this island state and is associated with adultery, financial problems, alcohol abuse and polygamy. Many cases involve the abuse and neglect of wives, as well as children, when a husband enters into further relationships.

Following a visit to the country in 2012, Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, reported that “the practice of polygamy also creates tension between women within the same family and has led to cases of violence, sometimes resulting in murder of the husband or additional wife or girlfriend.”

Urame believes that banning polygamy will help to combat family violence and gender inequality, while Kegemo says wider laws preventing violence against women are needed as well.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of polygamy on the spread of HIV/AIDS. While no specific study has been conducted on connections between polygamy and the disease, Peter Bire, director of the National AIDS Council, highlighted that high-risk behaviours could not be ignored.

“What we know is that multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, in a context of low and inconsistent condom use, are important contributing factors,” he told IPS.

Another factor is that “sex outside of polygamous marriages is common and, because of the gender inequality problem in PNG, it is usually the husbands who can be blamed for being unfaithful,” he stated, adding that promiscuity puts wives at a high risk of contracting the virus.

The national HIV prevalence in people aged 15-49 years is estimated at 0.8 percent of the population, rising to 0.91 percent in the highlands region. HIV-positive cases in the country increased from 3,446 to 31,609 in the decade to 2010 with men comprising 37 percent and women 61 percent.

Bire said that, while the country’s HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act criminalises the intentional transmission of HIV, more comprehensive human rights laws, especially ones to better protect women, are needed to help fight the disease.

But “as with many laws and policies in PNG, implementation remains a challenge,” he continued.

In rural areas, where more than 80 percent of the population live, geographical barriers, such as dense rainforest and rugged mountains, as well as wider corruption, are factors in the limited development of the country’s infrastructure and outreach of government services, including law enforcement.

Despite these hurdles, many are hopeful that small steps like the recent polygamy law will eventually bring a better deal for women.

(END)

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India’s Great Invisible Workforcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-great-invisible-workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:58:10 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135610 Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

According to census data released this month, a whopping 160 million women in India, 88 percent of who are of working age (15 to 59 years), are confined to their homes performing ‘household duties’ rather than gainfully employed in the formal job sector.

Dubbed India’s ‘great invisible workforce’, this demographic is primarily involved in rearing families within the four walls of their homes.

This asymmetry in the workforce, experts say, reflects illiberal economic policies as well as complex social dynamics, which scupper the chances of women in the world’s so-called ‘largest democracy’ to realise their full income-generating potential.

The odds are heavily stacked against women in this vast country of 1.2 billion. Though more women are going out to work, India primarily remains a nation of stay-at-home wives who play a pivotal role in keeping families together in a country with virtually no government-aided social security.

Small wonder, then, that India ranks an abysmal 101st in a 136-nation survey titled ‘The Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum in 2013, which tracks international progress in bridging the gender gap worldwide.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.” -- Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist
The index measures the “relative gaps between women and men” across countries in four key areas – health, education, economics and politics. With so many million women out of the workforce, India’s overall ranking reflects lopsided government policies that are failing to harness the full potential of a key demographic.

“The stay-at-home woman syndrome is a shocking loss to the country as well as to the women themselves,” says Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.”

Even though women achievers have earned admiration and respect in Indian society, gender-stereotyping results in most women facing a clash between work and family life, especially when they have to prioritise one over the other.

Despite a boom in the education sector, Indian women also remain less educated than men even though they make up nearly half the population.

The literacy rate for Indian women hovers at around 65 percent as per the 2011 census, compared to over 82 percent literacy among men.

This is an overwhelming reason for Indian women’s unemployment, say analysts.

Most Indian women comprise part of the country’s sprawling ‘informal’ sector‘, defined by the absence of decent working conditions as specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), lax labour laws and insufficient or insecure wages.

According to a 2011 ILO report, 83.8 percent of South Asian women are engaged in so-called ‘vulnerable employment’ that can in most cases be defined as casual labour or sporadic employment such as the manufacturing of garments and other handmade items produced within the worker’s own home.

Indian women workers represent a considerable share of this segment, which has expanded substantially over the last 20 years, researchers say.

While the percentage of women employed in the informal economy remains high, the number of Indian women engaged in formal, secure and recognised labour is still minimal. Only 14-15 percent of workers in the formal sector are women, a number that has remained stagnant for several years.

India also lags far behind the world’s average when it comes to female representation in management, with women occupying a miserable two to three percent of administrative and managerial positions nationwide.

According to Dr. Manasi Mishra, head of research at the Centre for Social Research (CSR), a New Delhi-based think tank, “Indian women usually tend to drop out at mid-career-level positions as they prioritise personal commitments and find it difficult to balance organisational demands, career aspirations and family commitments.”

Also, despite valiant efforts to build gender diversity in the workplace, corporate India still has less than five percent of women at top management and board levels. Only 50 percent of the women who graduate from business schools enter the workforce, says a CSR survey entitled ‘Women Managers In India – Challenges & Opportunities’.

The persistence of an invisible glass ceiling in the workplace and the prevalence of stereotyped gender roles also contribute to lower representation of women in higher-level positions, Mishra says.

“Society and organisations should work in synergy to prevent [women from dropping out] on the journey from education to employment,” she stressed.

Unfortunately, the problem is not specific to India. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, women make up about 48 percent of the overall public sector workforce, but represent less than 20 percent of public sector leadership across the G20 countries the consulting firm studied.

Diversity, according to the index, is crucial to delivering more effective governance and increased economic competitiveness.

Ernst & Young also found that the ratios of women in leadership roles vary widely. Over half of Germany’s public sector workforce is female (52 percent), but only 15 percent of women have leadership positions.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, women make up 42 percent of the public sector workforce, but only three percent are leaders.

Russia, with the highest number of women represented across the public sector (71 percent), has just 13 percent female representation in leadership roles.

Here too, India languishes at the bottom of the pyramid with only 7.7 percent of its public sector leaders being female.

Experts say there is an urgent need for gender-sensitisation.

“The precondition for any effective social security policy aimed at women,” explains Amitabh Kumar, head of the media and communications division at CSR, “is the provision of economic security through ownership rights, and the securing of women’s right to resources such as land, housing, energy and technology.

“As long as the State takes no effective measures to ensure these very basic rights for women, we can’t expect even those social security policies aimed at women to have any effect.”

For the time being, it appears that India’s great invisible workforce will remain in the shadows until the government makes a determined effort to bring these women into the light.

(END)

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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Reproductive Rights to Take Centre Stage at U.N. Special Sessionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 19:23:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135488 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations continues negotiations on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for its post-2015 development agenda, population experts are hoping reproductive health will be given significant recognition in the final line-up of the goals later this year.

At the same time, an upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly in mid-September may further strengthen reproductive rights and the right to universal family planning."Advocates are rallying to ensure that SRHR remains as central to the next set of goals as it is to women's lives." -- Gina Sarfaty

Gina Sarfaty of the Washington-based Population Action International (PAI) told IPS, “We are at a critical juncture for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).”

As the conversation around the next set of SDGs begins to heat up, she said, “Advocates are rallying to ensure that SRHR remains as central to the next set of goals as it is to women’s lives.

“The stakes are high, and the need for action is paramount,” cautioned Sarfaty, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist and research associate at PAI.

World population, currently at over 7.2 billion, is projected to increase by 3.7 billion people by 2100. Much of this growth will occur in developing countries, with 64 percent concentrated in just 10 countries, according to PAI.

In eight of these nations – Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia – an important driver of population growth is persistently high fertility.

The remaining two countries accounting for the world’s increase – India and the United States – are those with already large populations and high net migration.

The ongoing negotiations for SDGs take place against the run-up to the upcoming special session of the General Assembly commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.

The special session, to be attended by several heads of state, is scheduled to take place Sep. 22 during the 69th session of the General Assembly.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, under-secretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS the principles set at the ICPD in 1994 are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.

“But we need to act strong and fast to realise the Cairo vision and achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including family planning,” he added.

The special session presents the perfect opportunity for governments, at the highest level, to recommit to its success and to renew their political support for actions required to fully achieve the goals and objectives of its Programme of Action and achieve sustainable development, he said.

This will also place the Cairo principles firmly in the post-2015 development agenda, said Dr. Osotimehin, a former Nigerian minister of health.

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS the September meeting represents an opportunity for world leaders to assess progress made over the past 20 years against the goals and strategies developed in 1994, identify any remaining gaps in performance that require increased attention and investment, and realign their efforts moving forward.

“This is a very important session for all of us working on sexual and reproductive health since it provides a critical forum for reaffirming and unifying international commitment to ICPD goals and for making an added push to do more on areas and in countries where we are lagging,” she said.

Asked why there wasn’t a follow-up international conference, perhaps an ICPD+20 on the lines of the Rio+20 environment conference in 2012, Mane said the Cairo Programme of Action developed a very forward-looking agenda and set the bar high for the international community 20 years ago.

She said its goals are still relevant and actionable, and the agenda is unfortunately not yet finished.

“My sense is that having a follow-up conference in such an environment was seen as neither strategic nor a good use of resources,” Mane said.

The upcoming special session “is intended to heighten focus on the goals established in the 1994 Programme of Action, stimulate discussion around what we will do to complete the unfinished agenda, re-engage on commitments already made and also push for more.

“I would hope the upcoming U.N. session will highlight the need to include sexual and reproductive health and rights upfront as a core component of the Sustainable Development Goals as the Open Working Group continues to develop its proposal,” said Mane, who oversees sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing nations on an annual budget of over 100 million dollars.

Asked about the current status of world population growth, PAI’s Sarfaty told IPS that despite the fact that mortality has declined substantially, women in sub-Saharan Africa currently have more than five children on average, representing a modest decrease from the average of 6.5 children they had in the 1950s.

Compared to Latin America and Asia, she said, a slower pace of fertility decline has characterised sub-Saharan Africa, with stalls and even reversals along the way.

Of 22 countries where recent survey data is available, 10 are transitioning towards lower childbearing while 12 are currently experiencing fertility stalls.

“Therefore, the expectation that fertility will steadily decline in Africa, as the U.N. projects, will not hold without concerted policy and programme effort,” she warned.

The polar opposite fertility scenario is happening in the high income countries with low levels of fertility.

It is estimated that 48 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where women have fewer than 2.1 children on average in their lifetimes, she pointed out.

While fertility rates in these countries may be below replacement level, their need for family planning does not disappear, she declared.

Sarfaty said family planning use continued in Iran, for example, after the government discontinued its funding of family planning programmes in an attempt to encourage higher birth rates.

In addition to being ineffective, restricting access to family planning also restricts the right of a woman to determine her family size, she added.

Meanwhile, in a report released Thursday, the United Nations said the world’s population is increasingly urban, with more than half living in urban areas today and another 2.5 billion expected by 2050.

With nearly 38 million people, Tokyo tops U.N.’s ranking of most populous cities followed by Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Mumbai.

The largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria: three countries accounting for 37 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050.

By 2050, India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers, China 292 million and Nigeria 212 million.

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Young Latin Americans Face Spiral of Unemployment, Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:33:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135484 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

In Latin America, young people are the main link in the chain of poverty leading from one generation to the next. Civil society groups, academics and young people themselves say it is imperative to strengthen the connection between education today and decent employment tomorrow.

“The region’s youth is a subject in its own right, with great symbolic power. It is probably the age group that generates the richest range of identities and cultural expressions,” Martin Hopenhayn, head of the social development division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country." -- María Fernanda Tejada

One in four Latin Americans is aged between 15 and 29, according to the Santiago-based ECLAC. This makes it a young continent, “but not for long,” Hopenhayn said.

The population aged 0-15 has fallen markedly in the region, so in 20 years’ time it will have an ageing society.

“That’s why it is very important to invest now in young people, because in 20 years’ time we are going to need the non-aged population to be much more productive,” Hopenhayn said.

But investment in youth is relatively low in Latin America, especially when public and private investment in post-secondary education is compared with emerging countries in southeast Asia, or with European countries.

“Young people are the main link in the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Hopenhayn said. This transmission will determine whether young people currently becoming economically independent will re-experience “the income poverty and job insecurity of previous generations, that is, of their parents,” he said.

The key mechanism to interrupt this intergenerational transmission is to improve the connection between education today and employment tomorrow, he said.

Investing in youth

The United Nations highlights that the present generation of youth worldwide is the largest in history, totalling 1.8 billion young people, most of whom live in the developing countries of the South.

Consequently, UNFPA is seeking to build awareness about the urgent need to increase resources devoted to youth. Its theme for World Population Day, celebrated this Friday Jul. 11, is “investing in young people.”

“We must reduce the gap in educational attainments between poor and non-poor young people,” by focusing investment on education for lower-income sectors, he said.

According to ECLAC figures, only 28 percent of young people aged 20-24 from the poorest 20 percent of the population have completed their secondary education; while among the richest 20 percent, about 80 percent have completed secondary education.

“At present, completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for a young person moving into the world of work and a lifelong career to have real expectations of achieving well-being and social mobility, and overcoming poverty,” Hopenhayn said.

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos, a brother and sister who have set up a small fruit distribution business of their own near the University of Costa Rica, in San José, are well aware of this fact.

Ángel, 21, finished his studies as a hairdresser in December 2013 and began working in January 2014. When his 22-year-old sister and her partner separated, the brother and sister started to distribute fruit in local beauty salons.

“Perhaps the main barrier is that if you are experienced and older, it is difficult to get a job, and if you are young, in spite of all your energy, it’s also difficult, but here (in the salon) they have offered me good opportunities,” Ángel told IPS.

Neither of them has started university and Guadalupe has not finished secondary school. In Costa Rica, with its 4.8 million people, 22 percent of young people work in the informal economy, which Ángel and Guadalupe intend to leave.

In Mexico, 37 million people are aged 15-29, out of a total population of 118 million. Nearly 26 percent of this age group are neither studying nor working, and almost 45 percent of them live in poverty.

“I am worried about the lack of opportunities and the prospect of unemployment,” 18-year-old María Fernanda Tejada told IPS. In August she will start studying internatioal relations at the Autonomous University of Mexico, in the capital city.

“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country,” added Tejada, who is the eldest of four children.

In Santiago, 19-year-old Daniel Hurtado is studying medicine, in spite of the social expectation that he would probably work “in a call centre, or as a supermarket packer, in construction or as a waiter,” his father Hugo, himself a waiter, told IPS.

A wage earner in Chile, which has a population of 17.6 million, earns an average of 500 dollars a month, and generally has no chance to send children to university, where medical studies cost between 900 and 1,200 dollars a month. “It’s a gruelling effort,” said the father. “But we are breaking through the barrier,” said the son.

In Hopenhayn’s view, intervening in education is the best means to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, because it is a mass phenomenon that is socially recognised, and has a major impact on the world of work.

According to a study by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly one-third of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in poverty, which contravenes their human rights, enshrined in international treaties.

The study, published in 2012, says that the poverty and extreme poverty rates among young people aged 15-29 in the region are 30.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. Together with under-15s, this group is the most vulnerable to poverty in the region.

Employment opportunities are limited for young people, who have an unemployment rate of 15 percent, while for those aged over 30, unemployment is only six percent.

Another factor is the high rate of informal employment in the region, which particularly affects young people.

“For instance, in Chile between 45 and 50 percent of workers are in informal employment, but in the 15-29 age group, 60 percent are informal workers,” sociologist Lucas Cifuentes, a researcher with the Work, Employment, Equity and Health programme at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told IPS.

He said, “undoubtedly employment is the lynchpin of social development,” and added that “it is impossible to overcome poverty without decent, dignified and protected work.”

In Hopenhayn’s view, recent years have brought about major institutional progress in youth policies, moderate progress in terms of investment in young people, and insufficient progress in investment in young people’s education.

While waiting for that to materialise, Latin American societies continue to seek their own alternative solutions to problems like inequality, and young people demand – in some countries, on the streets – investment to break the transmission of inequality in their generation.

With additional reporting from Emilio Godoy in Mexico City, and Diego Arguedas in San José.

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OPINION: Unleashing African Young People’s Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:24:30 +0000 Adebayo Fayoyin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135478 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

By Adebayo Fayoyin
JOHANNESBURG, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

An African proverb says “a child that we refuse to build today will end up selling the house that we may build tomorrow.”

The moral of this is clear. Unless we invest in our children and young people today, they might become a threat or a burden in the future.As the international community commemorates World Population Day on July 11, Africa’s growing youth population should be recognised as a ‘powerful force for change’ that requires greater investment today.

Judging by the current challenges confronting young people, the extent to which African countries are investing in the youth is unclear.

More young people

According to the Africa Regional Review for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) the continent is experiencing substantial demographic shifts, which have seen about 21 million persons a year being added to the population since 1994.

Africa has the youngest population and will remain so for decades in a rapidly ageing world. By 2050 “the median age for Africa will increase to 25, while the average for the world as a whole will climb to about 38”.

The fertility rate on the continent is decreasing gradually and the new generation of young people will probably have fewer children than their parents. This demographic shift will also mean fewer elderly people and children to support than previous generations.

Undoubtedly, demography will greatly shape Africa’s position in the global markets for labour, trade and capital.

The phenomenon is what economists call a ‘demographic dividend’, which they argue is a one-time window of opportunity to create wealth and economic growth.

The future they want

But failure to invest in this demographic also comes with its own challenges.

Maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS are the two main causes of death among young women aged 15 to 24 years in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly everywhere, adolescents are inhibited from freely exercising their right to, for example, comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services.

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women's rights. Credit: UNFPA

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women’s rights. Credit: UNFPA

In many African counties, more than 40 per cent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married by age 18. Also in the countries with high child marriage rates – Niger, Mali, CAR, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Madagascar, Uganda, Senegal, Malawi, Cameroon and Libya – many girls are married off by age 15.

That is why investment in Africa’s youthful population from multiple angles, and primarily from the public and private sectors, is essential for realising the demographic dividend.

“Healthy, productive and fully engaged”

In his message for the World Population Day commemoration, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim says “we know that healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges”

Africa’s largely youthful population makes up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders and their challenges can no longer be ignored. Getting the best from the increased youth bulge in Africa can only be assured when appropriate health and development plans, policies and programmes are put in place and adequately implemented.

Adebayo Fayoyin is the Regional Communications Advisor for the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office.

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Shea Harvesting Good for Income, Bad for the Environment in Ghanahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:14:43 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135472 40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
TAMALE, Ghana, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

The shea tree, a traditional African food plant, represents a major source of income for women in Ghana’s Northern, Upper West and Upper East regions, but they are helping to destroy the very resource that gives them money by cutting it down to produce charcoal.

An estimated 900,000 rural women are involved in the shea sector in northern Ghana, mostly collecting the tree’s fruit to transform it into butter. Shea butter production contributes about 18 million dollars annually to the country’s economy.

One such woman is 40-year-old Alima Asigri from Bagrugu, a community in the Karaka district of the northern region of Ghana, who, together with her four children, is fully engaged in the harvesting of shea fruit which she turns into butter for eating and cooking because it is rich in vitamins A, E and F. The butter is also used as a body cream.

On average, the family produces more than 20 kg of butter every two weeks during the peak season from April to August, earning 1,100 cedi (394 dollars) which go towards the family’s upkeep and the children’s educational needs.“Sometimes I think about how fast the resource [shea] is depleting but I have no income-generating venture other than that. It’s my livelihood, especially during the off-farming season” – Alima Asigri

Today, the shea tree is increasingly being used for its wood and not its fruit. “We also cut shea trees and process its wood into charcoal. The charcoal business is booming because of buyer demand for charcoal from shea trees rather than ordinary trees. They believe it is robust, lasts longer and is cheaper than liquefied petroleum gas (LPG),” Asigri explained.

A United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report on ‘Woodfuel Use in Ghana: An Outlook for the Future’, indicated that about 69 percent of all urban households in Ghana use charcoal for cooking and heating, and the annual per capita consumption is around 180 kg.

According to the report, total annual consumption is about 700,000 tonnes, 30 percent of which is consumed in the country’s capital Accra. Fuel wood accounts for about 71 percent of total primary energy supply and about 60 percent of final energy demand. An estimated 2.2 million families depend on charcoal for household chores and some 600,000 small-scale enterprises depend on fuel wood or charcoal as their main sources of energy.

However, this is taking its toll on the country’s trees. In an interview with IPS, Iddi Zakaria, Coordinator of Shea Network Ghana (SNG) recalled that some 40 years ago in the Salaga district of the Northern Region, shea trees covered the entire area but now, due to constant usage and no conscious attempt  to replant, the natural resource has been depleted.

“It used to be a taboo to cut shea and other economic trees. One needed to seek permission from the chief’s palace before, but it’s different now”, he said.

He noted that a recent study by the Savanna Alliance research company had revealed that Act 571, which established the Forestry Commission of Ghana as a corporate body and mandated the commission to protect and regulate the utilisation of forest and timber resources, failed to include shea, dawadawa and baobab trees.

“The policy and institutional shortfall in the management and conservation of the sector has led to continued harvesting of shea trees indiscriminately for fuel wood and charcoal,” Zakaria told IPS, adding that even though laudable efforts are being made by stakeholders to reap the benefits from the shea sector, the future sustainability of the raw material is questionable.

“What players are asking of government are legal reforms to protect resources,” he said.

Ebenezer Djaney Djagletey, Northern Regional Director of the Forestry Commission confirmed that shea trees are not among the protected tree species listed in the forestry regulations.

Djagletey said that he was concerned about the depletion of resources due to activities such as infrastructure development, sand weaning, bush burning and farming, all of which involve the clearing of vegetation.

“Some 80 out of 100 sacks of charcoal produced are from the shea tree, the other 20 come from the neem tree and the dawadawa tree, the fruit of which is used as a cooking spice”, he said.

To discourage people from using charcoal and other fuel wood, the Ghanaian government has announced plans to distribute 50,000 six-kilogramme gas cylinders and cooking stoves to some rural areas under its Rural Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Promotion programme. According to

Ghana’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum Armah Kofi Buah, 1,500 cylinders have already been delivered.

However, Collins Kyei Boafoh, an outreach specialist with ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) described the government policy as a “bad” policy and expressed scepticism about the initiative because of periodic increases in the price of LPG.

“The question is who refills the gas cylinder when it is finished. It cost about 10 cedi (3.59 dollars) to buy gas and relatively few rural folk have enough money and will opt for charcoal or fuel wood instead of gas,” he said.

He advises the government and development partners to support women with alternative livelihood skills, such as soap-making, and build more shea processing centres with guaranteed prices for shea butter to reduce the charcoal business.

Alima Asigri in Bagrugu could be one of the women to benefit if such support were to materialise and she is already aware of the harm her activity is causing to the environment.

“Sometimes I think about how fast the resource is depleting but I have no income-generating venture other than that. It’s my livelihood, especially during the off-farming season,” she told IPS. “Besides, thanks to the shea business, I have been able to educate my first son through university education and he’s now doing his further studies in Belgium.”

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Zimbabwean Girls Venture into Technological Innovationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zimbabwean-girls-venture-into-technological-innovation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-girls-venture-into-technological-innovation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zimbabwean-girls-venture-into-technological-innovation/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 05:56:22 +0000 Mary Kashumba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135467 Moselyn Muchena, one of the girls being given a chance under the TechWomen initiative. Credit: Mary Kashumba/IPS

Moselyn Muchena, one of the girls being given a chance under the TechWomen initiative. Credit: Mary Kashumba/IPS

By Mary Kashumba
HARARE, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

For 22-year-old Moselyn Muchena, a final year computer science student at the University of Zimbabwe, it seemed obvious to create a mobile application offering easy access to services in the local catering industry, largely because of the huge number of female entrepreneurs in that sector.

“The kinds of problems these women are going through inspired me to come up with an innovative application for the industry called ORDER NOW, through which they can [post] their menus and specials, as well as their location and the prices of items.

“The application is also interactive, allowing customers to share [their reviews] on other social networks platforms … and it offers a platform for feedback, which is vital for businesses,” Muchena told IPS. The app also allows for advertising.“We want to tap into the creative and innovative base of 52 percent of the population. Imagine what the world has lost in innovation due to the lack of or fewer women in these creative spaces” – TechWomen Zimbabwe

“I am grateful to get this opportunity to create a culinary application that can be used by restaurants, where mostly women dominate the field,” she said, adding that she hoped her app will have a global reach.

According to Farai Mutambanengwe, president of the Small to Medium Scale Enterprises Association of Zimbabwe, women dominate the catering industry in Zimbabwe. He told IPS that while the association had no actual analysis “on the number of women who are in the culinary industry compared with men, generally women continue to grow in dominating this field.”

Muchena sees herself as paving the way for other girls to enter the fields of science and technology. “Being the only girl doing computer science in my class, I used to feel like an outcast and it took me time to blend in to become part of the class and not ‘the woman’ in the class. I said to myself I would also pave the way for young girls who aspire to have a career in technological innovations.”

The young innovator is just one of over 100 girls and women aged between 10 and 23 who are creating innovative technologies to address community problems in Zimbabwe. They are part of a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs initiative called TechWomen, a programme designed to empower, connect and support the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Referring to her own experience in developing her software, Muchena pointed out that there was an urgent need for investors in the field of science. “Our plight as young science entrepreneurs is that there are no investors willing to engage youths who are coming up with innovations.” However, lack of investment in the science sector has dwindled as a result of a restrictive economy.

According to a 2008 report in the Economic Reform Feature Service  of the Centre for International Enterprise (CIPE), “the education system in Zimbabwe has long suffered from an insufficient focus on teaching practical skills, limited access to higher education opportunities, and unequal access for girls to specialised fields such as science.”

“Successful educational reform is a necessary step to create the basis for sustained economic growth and requires the involvement of all stakeholders, ranging from families and civil society into national and local governments as well as the private sector,” said the report.

National Zimbabwean statistics for 2012 show that the number of women who enrolled in faculties of engineering, computer science and science technology at university level were 17 percent, 35 percent and 22 percent respectively in 2009. A year later, women’s enrolment in these faculties were 17. 5 percent, 39 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Chemical technologist Aretha Mare, one of the members of TechWomen Zimbabwe, founded by five Zimbabwean women who graduated from the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen initiative, told IPS that its vision is to see gender parity, or 50 percent representation of women in all STEM professions.

“We want to tap into the creative and innovative base of 52 percent of the population,” says TechWomen Zimbabwe. “Imagine what the world has lost in innovation due to the lack of or fewer women in these creative spaces.”

Mare said that under the TechWomen initiative, “the women act as role models, mentors and teachers, creating a networking platform and peer-to-peer interaction with sharing of knowledge to keep them motivated and sharing of opportunities, thus avoiding the leaky pipe where a few women who pursue STEM careers also switch careers or leave due to frustrations in the workplace.”

According to Mare, “the girls’ programme aims to expose girls to STEM fields through experiential learning, where they identify problems, use STEM to solve them, recalibrate and ideate again. We try to do it in hands on, fun and engaging way.”

“We believe we are causing a revolution, transitioning Zimbabwe into a tech power house through girls and women as we target girls from marginalised backgrounds (both in school and out of school), some of them with no prior computer experience and most with limited access to technology. So far we have trained over 100 girls,” she added.

Meanwhile, under its Strategic Plan (2011-2015), Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in partnership with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has embarked on a massive programme to revive science teaching in the country. The programme is being funded through the Education Development Fund (EDF), a multi-donor funding mechanism.

The programme has already distributed 2,449 sciences kits and is currently working on the re-training of more than 5,000 science teachers from the 2,336 secondary schools in the country on the safe use and maintenance of the equipment in the kits.

For Muchena, it all comes down to convincing parents and the government to strive to ensure that talent is given a chance. “I encourage parents and the authorities to understand that sometimes it is not about the academic aspects but about realising a child’s ability and nurturing it into something big.”

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OPINION: Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:36:38 +0000 Michelle Brane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135459 A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Michelle Brané
SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

In recent months, an unprecedented surge of refugee women and children has been traveling alone to the United States to seek protection at our southern border.

The vast majority are fleeing their homes in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and risking their lives as they make long and incredibly dangerous journeys to seek refuge on our soil.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has been closely monitoring this population since 2011. Through our research, we concluded over two years ago that without major changes in U.S. aid or foreign policy to the Central America region, the United States would continue to receive more vulnerable migrants due to the humanitarian crisis developing in the region.

Michelle Brané

Courtesy of Michelle Brané

Organised crime, forced gang recruitment, violence against women, and weak economic and social systems are all contributing to the pervasive insecurity in these countries.

The flow of refugees fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has not only continued, but has increased dramatically and rapidly as violence in the region has escalated.

And refugees are not only coming to the United States. The United Nations has found that asylum requests in the the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have skyrocketed by 712 percent since 2009.

While some children may be seeking to reunite with their parents or family in the United States, the motivating factor forcing them from their homes is violence and persecution. The children we spoke with told us they feared they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, at least they would have a chance.

Particularly concerning about the recent surge is that the children making the perilous migration journey are now younger than in years past. It has become common for children as young as four to 10 years old to be picked up and arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Additionally, a higher percentage of the children are girls, many of whom arrive pregnant as a result of sexual violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently conducted research with this population and found that 58 percent of the children interviewed raised international protection concerns.

Children also come to the United States with their parents. Since 2012, the number of families arriving at the southern border of the United States has increased significantly. The vast majority of these families are made up of women with very young children and are fleeing the same violence and insecurity driving the refugee children.

Our country has a long and dedicated commitment to human rights, due process and the assurance that individuals who arrive at our borders seeking safety are not turned away without addressing their claims.

Under international and domestic law, we have an obligation to properly screen and provide protection for unaccompanied minors, trafficking victims and asylum seekers who arrive at our borders.

In recent months, however, the government has been unprepared and overwhelmed by the numbers of children and families in need. Rather than addressing the issue in a manner that is in line with our American ideals and recognising it as a regional refugee situation, the Obama administration is looking for a quick fix and compromising our values and the lives of women and children in the process by responding as though it were an immigration issue.

We are deeply concerned by the government’s recent announcement that it will drastically expand detention of families and will expedite the processing of asylum cases.

Harsh detention and deportation policies endanger the well-being of children and families, present a risk that individuals with legitimate claims to asylum and other forms of protection will be summarily returned to countries where their lives are seriously threatened, and do not work as a deterrent against future migration.

Additionally, the administration has proposed to roll back laws that are in place to protect children, in order to quickly and with no due process, deport kids back to the dangers they escaped.

This humanitarian refugee crisis is a complex human tragedy and needs both short-term and long-term attention. It requires a holistic approach that prioritises additional resources for addressing the root causes of this crisis, strengthening protection in the region, and reinforcing our protection and adjudication of claims, not blocking access to protection and sending women and children back to the dangerous situations they are fleeing without adequate due process.

The United States must not compromise its long-standing commitment to humanitarian principles in the hope of finding a quick solution.

Michelle Brané is director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Programme at the Women’s Refugee Commission. This article was originally published by New America Media – a network of ethnic news organisations in the U.S., and is reproduced here by arrangement with them.

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