Inter Press Service » Women & Economy http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 29 Apr 2017 08:12:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.17 Long Way to Go for Indigenous Rights Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 09:11:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150139 Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Despite progress, many gaps remain in international indigenous rights protection, said representatives during an annual UN meeting.

More than 1000 indigenous representatives from around the world have gathered at the UN for the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). This year’s meeting focuses on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which was adopted 10 years ago by the General Assembly.

“On the day of the adoption of the declaration, there was a major change in the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples,” said this year’s UNFPII Chairperson Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine during the opening ceremony.

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Willie Littlechild echoed similar comments, stating that indigenous communities had no voice in the international arena until the 1980s when discussions first began on creating a special instrument to protect indigenous peoples worldwide.

Alongside the Declaration, the UN now has four mechanisms focused on indigenous communities, including UNPFII and a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Coming from no voice to four mechanisms at the UN, I think that is a significant accomplishment,” Littlechild stated.

The 2030 Agenda for Development, adopted in 2015 by the international community, also directly involves and references indigenous issues unlike its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, many challenges remain in implementing and enforcing UNDRIP.

Littlechild expressed concern to IPS over the lack of implementation mechanisms in Canada, stating: “[Justin Trudeau] was the first Prime Minister to even look at the UN declaration…but the task is now in the follow-up.”

After formally adopting UNDRIP in 2016, many have said that Prime Minister Trudeau has violated the document by approving several controversial pipelines without full consent from indigenous communities whose lands would be impacted. One such pipeline is the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline which received support from 40 out of 139 First Nations living along the planned route.

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Article 19 of UNDRIP highlights the importance of such consent, stating: “States are required to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.”

The right to lands, territories, and resources is also among the most important provisions of the Declaration.

Both Aboubakrine and Littlechild highlighted the importance of inclusive discussions and decision-making at the international and state levels to ensure the protection of indigenous rights.

“Some of the traditional knowledge of elders is critical to making sure there’s safe development if that is what is agreed to or to protect the environment,” Littlechild told IPS.

Aboubakrine stressed the need for UN agencies to communicate and coordinate in order to effectively and meaningfully enforce UNDRIP.

“It’s moving along, but I’m just concerned we are not moving along with it,” Littlechild concluded.

Indigenous communities around the world face disproportionately high rates of poverty, poor health, and discrimination. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), indigenous people constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but make up approximately 15 percent of the world’s poorest.

The 16th Session of UNFPII aims to address challenges and highlight progress in indigenous rights at the UN headquarters from 24 April to 5 May.

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Indigenous Peoples – Best Allies or Worst Enemies?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 07:23:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150134 Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

It all happened on the very same day—4 April. That day, indigenous peoples were simultaneously characterised as fundamental allies in the world’s war on hunger and poverty, while being declared as collective victims of a “tsunami” of imprisonments in Australia. See what happened.

Australia must reduce the “astounding” rates of imprisonment for indigenous peoples and step up the fight against racism, on 4 April warned Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.“Traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management” – Graziano da Silva

“It is alarming that, while the country has adopted numerous policies to address the socio-economic disadvantage of Aboriginal peoples and those from the Torres Strait Islands, it has failed to respect their rights to self-determination and to full and effective participation in society,” she added at the end of an official visit to Australia.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the Australian government policies have failed to deliver on targets in the areas of “health, education and employment and have led to a growing number of people being jailed, and have resulted in an increasing number of children being removed from their homes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

Astounding Figures

“High rates of incarceration were described to me as a “tsunami” affecting indigenous peoples. It is a major human rights concern. The figures are simply astounding. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up only 3 per cent of the total population, they constitute 27 per cent of the prison population, and much more in some prisons,” she stressed.

“I visited Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville, Queensland, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children constitute 95 per cent of the children detained. Many have been going from out-of-home care into detention,” Tauli-Corpuz said, adding that aboriginal children are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in contact with the child protection system or to be subject to abuse or neglect.

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

“… I urge Australia to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Children should be detained only as a last resort… These children are essentially being punished for being poor and in most cases, prison will only aggravate the cycle of violence, poverty and crime. I found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of my visit.”

The UN expert expressed criticism of the government programme known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which was initiated in 2014 and involved a large budget cut in funding for support programmes. “The implementation of the strategy has been bureaucratic, rigid and has wasted considerable resources on administration.”

Tauli-Corpuz called on the government to forge a new relationship with the national representative body for indigenous peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First People, and restore their funding.

She also expressed concern that the government would not meet targets to close the gap in areas such as “life expectancy, infant mortality, education and employment,” and called for a comprehensive approach including specific targets for the “reduction of detention rates, child removal and violence against women.”

Fundamental Allies

That very same day–4 April, the head of the United Nations body specialised in the areas of food and agriculture, was welcoming in Rome a group of indigenous youth representatives from the indigenous peoples’ seven socio-cultural regions of the world.

In his address to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus meeting in the Italian capital (5-7 April), Graziano da Silva, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that indigenous peoples are “fundamental allies” in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty “because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.”

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

In a world in which climate change brings new challenges and uncertainties, we cannot eliminate hunger without the participation of youth, said da Silva, noting that “they must participate in these issues that will affect their children and their children’s children. Let’s work together and do it right now.”

The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for countries, indigenous organisations and the United Nations to work together to make an impact starting now through to 2030, he added, while reminding that since the creation of its Indigenous Peoples team in 2014, FAO is strengthening its work with indigenous organisations based on a double approach:

“On the one hand, we consider indigenous peoples as fundamental allies in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.

“On the other hand, “we are aware that the lack of recognition of their rights in the management of natural resources and the marginalization they suffer places them in a vulnerable position. I speak above all of your ancestral rights to land tenure.”

Traditional Indigenous Knowledge

Da Silva referred to the indigenous food systems, noting that traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management.

Working with indigenous women’s leadership schools, he added, has enabled fellow indigenous women to gain access to training on rights, food security and other areas of interest such as the use of local seeds, voluntary guidelines on land tenure, guides on artisanal fisheries, etc.

The Rome meeting of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus coincided with the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

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How Feminists Have Catapulted Women to National Leadership Roleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:51:10 +0000 Torild Skard http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150119 Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

By Torild Skard
NEW YORK, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Hillary Clinton did not make it to the top, but Theresa May, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, did. Since Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female prime minister, in Sri Lanka in 1960, one-hundred women have been heads of state or government around the world.

How did they get to power and did they make a difference? And how much did feminist activists influence the promotion of female leaders? Plenty and decisively.

The nations of the world reaffirmed faith in the equal rights of women and men when the United Nations was created in 1945, though all the existing states were male dominated and 97 percent of the representatives at the San Francisco conference were men.

My analysis of the conference shows that women from Latin America, headed by Bertha Lutz from Brazil, lobbied successfully for women’s rights, despite opposition from, among others, the sole US female representative, Virginia Gildersleeve, the dean of Barnard College.

Since then, the UN and member states have repeatedly demanded women’s equal participation in power structures, but progress has been slow. When it comes to everyday realities, men in power often seek to maintain their prerogatives, and the higher the position they hold, the greater the resistance to including women.

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

In 2017, only 23 percent of members of Parliament are women; 18 percent of government ministers are women; and 5 percent of national leaders are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

When I studied the life course of 73 female presidents and prime ministers in 53 countries from 1960 to 2010, in my book, “Women of Politics,” it was evident that national leadership for women was no simple matter.

In all regions, except North Africa and the Middle East, women rose to power but not often, and it happened in about twice as many industrialized nations as in developing countries. To succeed, most of the female top leaders had extraordinary qualifications, including extensive education and professional careers.

In addition, the political systems provided opportunities. The great majority of women rose to power in established or emerging democracies. But if a certain democracy was necessary for women’s political participation, that was not enough.

Worldwide, political institutions were male dominated and women were neither mobilized nor welcomed if there was no pressure from feminist movements to do so. Many women who climbed to power benefited from activists requiring more women in leading positions.

In practice, women used three paths to become national leaders. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi of India, Isabel Perón of Argentina and others in Asia and Latin America took over the political position of a deceased father or husband.

A few, such as Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot of Haiti, came in as outsiders relative to their personal background. But most of the women rose in the ranks of the political parties, gaining a degree of conditional support from male colleagues.

The political parties are crucial actors in democratic systems, representing a link between people and power. But often they represent an obstacle and do not provide support for women. Studies of parties are, unfortunately, rare. It is notable that globally, women hold only 10 percent of leadership positions in political parties.

Top female leaders are usually surrounded by men. At the same time, female politicians are often expected to promote the interests of women. Whatever they do, female leaders are criticized. So what did they do?

I studied to what extent female leaders followed up the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which has 189 states parties, of which the United States is a signatory but has not ratified it. Here is what I learned:

• Some women, albeit a few, conformed to male-dominated politics and neglected or weakened women’s positions. Such examples were Tansu Ciller of Turkey, Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of Britain.
• About half of the women played a compromising role, trying to look after the interests of both men and women. These included, among others, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Cristina Fernández Kirchner of Argentina, Mary McAleese of Ireland and Merkel and Gandhi.
• Finally, about a third of the women openly opposed male policies and promoted women-friendly measures, such as recruiting women to high positions, ensuring their reproductive rights and establishing special institutions for women. These include Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, Tarja Halonen of Finland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia.

Although most female heads of state and government did not call themselves a “feminist,” they all contributed to strengthening women as political actors by accepting a top position. Thereby, they broke prevailing patterns and, in most cases, showed that women could handle the tasks. In addition, the great majority — some more and some less — made efforts to support women in particular. So, it usually made a difference with a woman at the top instead of a man.

The approaches of top female leaders to winning gains for women was important, but to carry out substantial women-friendly policies they needed support. An active feminist movement pressuring the relevant levers was essential. And the political system had to work democratically, so feminist voters could have an impact on who was elected to political office and which policies were pursued to promote gender equality.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Sri Lanka’s Small Tea Farmers Turn Sustainable Land Managershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sri-lankas-small-tea-farmers-turn-sustainable-land-managers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-small-tea-farmers-turn-sustainable-land-managers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sri-lankas-small-tea-farmers-turn-sustainable-land-managers/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:00:01 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149681 Small tea farmer Kamakandalagi Leelavathi harvests leaves in the Uda Haupe tea estate in Kahawatte, Sri Lanka. She is one of hundreds of farmers who are shunning herbicides and other chemicals. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Small tea farmer Kamakandalagi Leelavathi harvests leaves in the Uda Haupe tea estate in Kahawatte, Sri Lanka. She is one of hundreds of farmers who are shunning herbicides and other chemicals. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
RATNAPURA, Sri Lanka, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

As the mercury rises higher, Kamakandalagi Leelavathi delves deeper into the lush green mass of the tea bushes. The past few afternoons there have been thunderstorms. So the 55-year-old tea picker in Uda Houpe tea garden of Sri Lanka’s Hatton region is rushing to complete her day’s task before the rain comes: harvesting 22 kgs of tea leaves.

“The rain is very unpredictible. Now there are downpours but it has been very dry the past few months,” says the daily wager who owns a one-acre marginal farm.

Yet at the Uda Houpe tea garden, the situation is much better, says Daurkarlagi Taranga, Leelavathi’s daughter and fellow tea farmer. “We have not been affected as badly as others. Here, the bushes are still full (of leaves) and the ground is moist thanks to the techniques we use,” she says.

These techniques are assorted green actions taken by small tea planters to manage their farmland in an eco-friendly way, explains Alluth Wattage Saman, manager of the Uda Houpe estate. The most important of these actions is minimising use of synthetic weed killer (herbicide), widely viewed as the main reason behind the degrading health of soil and tea plants in the region.

A tea picker in the Bearwell tea estate of Sri Lanka, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A tea picker in the Bearwell tea estate of Sri Lanka, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Climate threat to a lucrative sector

The tea sector of Sri Lanka is 153 years old and remain the largest industry today, providing employment to 2.5 million people. According to the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, the industry counts for 62 percent of all agricultural exports and brings home 1.6 billion dollars in foreign currency each year. Contributing to this huge business is a 400,000-strong small tea farmer community.

However, the lucrative tea economy of the island nation has been witnessing growing environmental challenges – the biggest of them being severe land degradation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), there is high rate of land degradation across the tea growing region in Sri Lanka. The biggest reason is that farmers here have used synthetic weed killer on the plantations for several decades.

They also paid little attention to protecting the water sources and biodiversity around the plantations. This has gradually affected the health of the soil, decreasing its fertility level, making it more acidic and also causing soil erosion.

While the degradation has affected the entire industry, the livelihoods and food security of the small tea growers are particularly threatened, says Lalith Kumar, project manager at the Tea Small Holding Development Authority (TSHDA) in Ratnapura, a region that produces over 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s tea.

Harvesters in Sri Lanka’s Bearwell tea estate, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Harvesters in Sri Lanka’s Bearwell tea estate, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Greening the Small Farms

The TSHDA is a government agency working with small tea growers in the country. According to Kumar, there are 150 small tea farms (less than 10 acres of land) in the Ratnapura region alone which provide livelihood to about 100,000 farmers. Climate change has worsened the situation with recurring droughts, erratic rainfall, and increasing soil erosion and acidification.

As a result, tea bushes are withering and moisture from the topsoil is evaporating, leaving the soil hardened and plant roots weak and damaged.

To help the tea farmers deal with this, TSHDA is currently working with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on a project to minimise herbicide use in the small tea farms and reverse the processes of degradation by sustainably managing the land.

According to a document by Global Environment Facility (GEF), the funder of the 2.9 million project, the goal is to “improve farm management practices, so that existing production land becomes more productive and forests, rivers, streams and other biologically important land situated on or adjacent to tea production areas are protected from negative impacts.”

A major step taken by the TSHDA is to train the farmers to manage their land in a sustainable way with minimum or no herbicides.

“We have started to train small farm managers in sustainable land management techniques that are simple, yet effective,” Kumar said. A lot of weeds grow around the tea bush, but only some of them are harmful.

“We train them in identifying the weeds and removing the harmful ones either by uprooting or cutting them at the roots. The weeds are then used as a bed of mulch, applied in between the two rows of tea plants. This helps retain the moisture on the land,“ he explained.

Training the Community

Saman, the manager of the Uda Haupe, is one of the 300 small tea growers who have been trained by TSHDA so far. It was an informal, hands-on training, reveals Saman, which included a day-long visit to a progressive and sustainably managed farm – the Hapugastenne tea estate.

There Saman saw small farmers like him managing their land without any synthetic weed killer or pesticides. He also learned to use organic manure, protect the water sources like natural springs within the plantation, as well the shedy trees, so birds and other animals can also survive. Finally, he learnt that the yield of the farm had increased almost by 60 percent since they adopted those techniques.

The visit, says the tea planter, helped him realize “small steps can bring bring big changes in a farm”.

The result has been encouraging: “I earlier spent 35,000 on herbicide every year, now I am saving that amount. My overall profit has gone up to 75,000 rupees,” says Saman, who has shared the newfound knowledge with his workers.

Some Unplugged Gaps

Saman and other small tea farmers in the area like Leelavathi sell their harvest to Kahawatte Plantation, a tea estate owned by corporate tea giant Dilmah. Early this month, the plantation received a Rainforest Alliance certificcation which recognizes that the estate maintains sustainability standards all along its supply chain, including the farms from where it buys the tea. This has already boosted the price of the estate’s produce, but suppliers like Saman are not aware of either the certification or its economic benefits such as higher market value.

“Nobody has told us about this,” Saman says.

Others want the government to help them with monetary incentives to better deal with climatic challenges.

At present, TSHDA offers a 50 percent subsidy to farmers who want to do a replantation on their farm – a complex and costly process that involves complete uprooting of all the tea plants, re-preparing the soil and replanting the saplings.

This is done when the yield in the farm drops dramatically due to either age (normally 30 years) or severe degradation of the land that cripples productivity. However, there are no other subsidies or incentives provided to the farmers right now for adopting sustainable land management – a policy that small tea growers like Leelavathi would like to see change.

“Since the use of the mulch, I began to save 700 rupees every month on herbicide and my total income rose to 15,000. But because of the growing droughts, I have to use most of it on fertilizer. If the government gives a subsidy, it will be very helpful. Or else I may have to migrate to another estate to earn more,” she says.

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

Afghan women. Credit: IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Discrimination Compounds Global Inequality: UN Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/discrimination-compounds-global-inequality-un-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=discrimination-compounds-global-inequality-un-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/discrimination-compounds-global-inequality-un-report/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:34:24 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149536 UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Despite 25 years of impressive global development, many people are not benefiting from progress due to persistent discrimination, according to a UN report released Tuesday.

The 2017 Human Development Report found that overall human development has improved significantly across all regions of the world since 1990. Yet despite these general improvements, poverty and inequality have persisted.

“The world has come a long way in rolling back extreme poverty, in improving access to education, health and sanitation, and in expanding possibilities for women and girls,” said UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark at the report’s launch. “But those gains are a prelude to the next, possibly tougher challenge, to ensure the benefits of global progress reach everyone.”

The report described how poverty and exclusion have remained, even in developed countries, where over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – live in relative poverty.

“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” -- Selim Jahan

The reasons for poverty and exclusion are often related to discrimination based on race, gender or migration status, the report found. Some of those most likely to live in poverty include indigenous people and people with disabilities. Meanwhile, more than 250 million people worldwide face discrimination solely on the basis of caste or another similar inherited lower status within society.

“By eliminating deep, persistent, discriminatory social norms and laws, and addressing the unequal access to political participation, which have hindered progress for so many, poverty can be eradicated and a peaceful, just, and sustainable development can be achieved for all,” Helen Clark said.

The largest group to be discriminated against globally is women and girls. Women are still poorer and earn less than men in every country globally and in 18 countries, women need their husband’s approval to work, the report found. Women now make up slightly less than half of the world’s population due to discrimination before and at birth through sex-selective abortion and infanticide.

“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” said Selim Jahan. “In order to advance, we need to examine more closely not just what has been achieved, but also who has been excluded and why.”

Other examples in this years report include the indigenous Parakanã, Asurini and Parkatêjê peoples of Brazil who were among more than 25,000 people forced to relocated due to the construction of the Tucuruí Dam in Brazil.

“Poor resettlement planning split up communities and forced them to relocate several times,” the report found.

Norway, Australia and Switzerland again topped the annual report as the world’s three most developed countries. Those countries with the lowest levels of human development were mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific. Syria was ranked at 149 of 188 countries, a sharp fall from 107 in 2009 before the Syrian conflict began.

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Women’s Pay Gap “Biggest Robbery in History”: UN Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-pay-gap-biggest-robbery-in-history-un-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-pay-gap-biggest-robbery-in-history-un-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-pay-gap-biggest-robbery-in-history-un-women/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 22:43:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149413 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women with actress Patricia Arquette. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women with actress Patricia Arquette. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown.

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

A new UN initiative launched on Monday night calls the women’s pay gap, which sees women paid 23 percent less than men globally: “the biggest robbery in history.”

During the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting, UN Women and the International Labor Organisation (ILO) launched the high-profile Equal Pay Platform of Champions to raise awareness on the persistent gender wage gap.

The coalition consists of celebrities and activists including award-winning documentary filmmaker Kamala Lopez, Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach, President of the Garment and Allied Workers Union Anannya Bhattacharjee, and actress Patricia Arquette.

“There has been a normalization for centuries of a bias against women, an acceptance that we are less than…there is no woman that [the wage gap] does not affect,” Lopez said as she moderated the launch.

UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka echoed similar sentiments, stating that such bias has led women’s work in a range of sectors to be undervalued.

“What does a woman in Wall Street have in common with a woman who has a shop in Brazil? Or in a cane farm in South Africa? Or in a sweatshop in Bangladesh? Chances are that they are all not paid equally by their different employers,“ said Mlambo-Ngcuka to delegates in the filled General Assembly Hall.

Globally, the gender pay gap is at approximately 23 percent as women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The figure is even higher in some regions and among certain communities. In the U.S., African American women earn only 60 cents, Native American women 59 cents and Hispanic women 55 cents for every $1 that white men earn. In Turkey, women earn up to 75 percent less than their male counterparts.

“What does a woman in Wall Street have in common with a woman who has a shop in Brazil? Or in a cane farm in South Africa? Or in a sweatshop in Bangladesh? Chances are that they are all not paid equally by their different employers,“ -- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Retired U.S. soccer player Abby Wambach shared her story and reasons for joining the Platform of Champions, stating: “I have two gold medals, I won a World Cup with my country…but I actually have to worry about paying my bills now.”

Before the enactment of Title IX, which guarantees that no person in the U.S. can be discriminated on the basis of sex in education receiving federal funds, opportunities for women in sports were extremely limited as women received only two percent of academic athletic budgets. It has since increased to 40 percent due to the law, but its existence is now threatened by the new administration.

“I want to make sure that the world that I leave is better than the world that I found,” Wambach said in reference to raising her stepdaughter.

Garment and Allied Workers Union’s President Anannya Bhattacharjee shed light on the plight of garment workers around the world, including those in Asia who are responsible for the production of over 60 percent of the world’s garments.

Bangladesh alone, which is the world’s second largest textile industry, earns more than $25 billion a year from exports and employs over 4 million workers, the majority of whom are women.

“The workers of this industry who are mainly women cannot access their basic human rights…industries that are dominated by women tend to be lower paid, which means that millions of women and generations of families live in poverty,” said Bhattacharjee.

In December, protests erupted in the South Asian nation as garment workers took to the streets to demand a monthly minimum wage increase from 67 dollars to 187 dollars. The call was dismissed, more than 1500 workers were fired, and over 40 arrested.

Bhattacharjee highlighted the need for a living wage, and to recognize the additional unpaid labor that women often take up to care for their families.

ILO estimates that it will take 70 years to close the gender wage gap at the current rate while the World Economic Forum warned that it could take 170 years for women and men to be paid the same for equal work due to reversed progress over the last few years.

Governments also joined in the call to action, including the Government of Iceland who recently became the first country to require equal pay for all.

“We had laws banning pay discrimination since 1961 in Iceland. Still, even though we are leading in equality, we still have a gender pay gap of around 7 percent. And that’s absolutely intolerable,” said Iceland’s Social Affairs and Equality Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson.

The country says it wants to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022.

Mlambo-Ngcuka noted the need for a comprehensive response to the complex wage inequality issue including by providing education to promote a shift in societal norms and sharing best practices from around the world to push for laws similar to those of Iceland.

“We can no longer afford to stand by and allow these deeply entrenched discriminations to persist…Every one of us can be a champion for women and girls. There are no superpowers necessary,” Lopez said.

CSW is the largest inter-governmental forum on women’s rights. The Equal Pay Platform of Champions is a part of the broader UN Women-ILO led Global Equal Pay Coalition that helps create concrete targets and laws to reduce the gender pay gap by 2030 at the global, regional and national levels.

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Women’s Progress Uneven, Facing Backlash – UN Rights Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-progress-uneven-facing-backlash-un-rights-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-progress-uneven-facing-backlash-un-rights-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-progress-uneven-facing-backlash-un-rights-chief/#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:20:07 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149327 Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 8 2017 (IPS)

“The women’s movement has brought about tremendous change but we must also recognise that progress has been slow and extremely uneven and that it also brought its own challenges,” warned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Marking International Women’s Day on March 8, Zeid said that in too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all. “We need to be alert – the advances of the last few decades are fragile and should nowhere be taken for granted.“

The United Nations Human Rights Office on March 7 launched a joint report with the African Union and UN Women detailing the progress and challenges to women’s struggle for human rights in Africa, while the UN rights chief warned that the women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.

Zeid added that it is “extremely troubling” to see recent roll-back of fundamental legislation in many parts of the world.

“Such roll-backs are “underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

While such pushbacks are carried out in the name of tradition, Zeid noted that they are often a response to segments of society calling for change. Among examples he gave, he pointed to recent legislation in Bangladesh, Burundi and the Russian Federation, which weakens women’s rights to fight against child marriage, marital rape and domestic violence, respectively.

He noted also the “fierce resistance” in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to political and civil society efforts to open up access to sexual and reproductive rights.

“With the world’s young population concentrated in developing nations, retrogressive measures denying women and girls access to sexual and reproductive health services will have a devastating effect,” Zeid said, noting more maternal deaths, more unintended pregnancies, fewer girls finishing school and the economic impact of failing to fully include women in the workforce.

“In short, a generation without choices and a collective failure to deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he added, referring to the internationally agreed action plan for eradicating poverty while assisting all people and maintain the health of the planet. “The women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.” – UN Human Rights Chief

Meanwhile, Zeid praised women’s movements in countries such as Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia, where women and men took to the streets to demand change, but warned that “it is time to come together to protect the important gains of the past and maintain a positive momentum.”

Women as Active Agents of Change

In Africa, women continue to be denied full enjoyment of their rights in every country, according to a new report released on Mach 7 entitled Women’s Rights in Africa. Statistics show that some African countries have no legal protection for women against domestic violence, and they are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, and to marry while still children.

According to the report, however, in Africa – as around the globe – when women exercise their rights to access to education, skills, and jobs, there is a surge in prosperity, positive health outcomes, and greater freedom and well-being, not only of women but of the whole society.

“Human rights are not a utopian fairy-tale -they are a recipe for sound institutions, more sustainable development and greater peace,” Zeid wrote in the foreword to the report.

“When all women are empowered to make their own choices and share resources, opportunities and decisions as equal partners, every society in Africa will be transformed.”

Among its recommendations, the report calls on African governments to encourage women’s full and productive employment, to recognize the importance of unpaid care and domestic work, and to ensure women can access and control their own economic and financial resources.

The report stresses that women should not be seen only as victims but, for example, as active agents in formal and informal peace building processes. (Read the Full Report).

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-in-the-changing-world-of-work-planet-50-50-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-the-changing-world-of-work-planet-50-50-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-in-the-changing-world-of-work-planet-50-50-by-2030/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 21:42:31 +0000 Zebib Kavuma 2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149310 A lady mechanic student poses with male classmates during a practical session at the Lodwar Vocational Training Centre in Turkana County, Kenya. With empowerment, more women are making the decision to take up jobs and careers previously believed to be preserves of men. Photo courtesy of UN RCO Kenya.

A lady mechanic student poses with male classmates during a practical session at the Lodwar Vocational Training Centre in Turkana County, Kenya. With empowerment, more women are making the decision to take up jobs and careers previously believed to be preserves of men. Photo courtesy of UN RCO Kenya.

By Zebib Kavuma
NAIROBI, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

This year as the world commemorates International Women’s Day it is a time for all of us to celebrate and reflect on the progress made on Women’s rights globally. But more importantly, a day to call for an end to gender inequality in all its forms especially in the work spaces. Appropriately themed “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” the commemoration comes against a backdrop of a world that is undergoing major changes with significant implications for women.

Africa has more women in executive committees, CEO, and board roles than the average worldwide. Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb.
On the one hand, we have globalization and the rapid technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring. On the other hand, are the growing informality of labor, the growth of corporate influence, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which have an impact on women’s economic options and their interaction with the world of work. But within this dynamic environment we must do everything possible to provide decent work for all women, ensure that women are treated fairly in law, ensure equal pay for women, teach everyone that any job is a women’s job and organize the women to ask for their rights.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, placing gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Achievement of these goals rests upon unlocking the full potential of women in the world of work.

On this International Women’s Day, UN Women calls upon all actors to Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030. Through the Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 initiative, we envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap through laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. So far, several African countries including Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, South Sudan, South Africa, Mozambique, have committed to ending discrimination against women by 2030 and have announced concrete and measurable actions to kick-start rapid change in their countries.

In addition to governments, Step It Up also works with key stakeholders to commit to Step It Up for gender equality and the empowerment of women. With the support of the partners, the initiative focuses on gender equality and women’s rights issues on two fronts – in their reporting, disrupting stereotypes and biases; and in increasing the number of women in the media, including in leadership and decision-making functions.

By 2030 we want to see a world where women in the workplace receive equal pay for equal work relative to their male counterparts and are not hampered in pursuing their economic option by unpaid care and domestic work.

A woman transporting a stack of reeds in rural Kenya. Women’s unpaid care and domestic work is yet to be recognized as labour in many parts of the developing world. Photo courtesy of UNDP Kenya.

A woman transporting a stack of reeds in rural Kenya. Women’s unpaid care and domestic work is yet to be recognized as labour in many parts of the developing world. Photo courtesy of UNDP Kenya.

Measures that are key to ensuring women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work must include bridging the gender pay gap, which stands at 24% globally; recognizing women’s unpaid care and domestic work and addressing the disproportionate burden of care work on women; as well as addressing the low representation of women in leadership, entrepreneurship; access to social protection; and ensuring gender-responsive economic policies for job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth.

Additionally, policies must cater for the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy by providing them with job safety and protection from harm. We must also promote women’s access to innovative technologies and practices, decent work and climate-resilient jobs as well as protect them from violence in the work place.

Kenya’s women and youth make a significant economic contribution, mainly in agriculture and informal business sector. Women make up nearly half of all micro and small enterprises. The recent affirmative action procurement legislation for women, youth and persons living with disabilities has created excellent opportunities for women to participate in the public procurement market.

Interestingly, in the private sector, Africa has more women in executive committees, CEO, and board roles than the average worldwide. Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb. Only 5%of women make it to the top as reported by Africa Women Matter McKinsey Report 2016.

Actions including creating programmes to eradicate violence against women and girls, encouraging women’s participation in decision-making, investing in national action plans or policies for gender equality, creating public education campaigns to promote gender equality, and many more are essential. Empowering women and girls is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Everyone has a role to play by making gender equality a lived reality by 2030.

 

 

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Time to Champion Women’s Empowerment: Implementation of SDGs in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/time-to-champion-womens-empowerment-implementation-of-sdgs-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-champion-womens-empowerment-implementation-of-sdgs-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/time-to-champion-womens-empowerment-implementation-of-sdgs-in-bangladesh/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:13:41 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149293 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad is Chairman of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, an apex development institution established by the Government of Bangladesh]]> Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

The year 2015 was highly significant in relation to global convergence on ways forward towards achieving sustainable development at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Global leaders reached four groundbreaking agreements that year, the first of which was the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the first major agreement crucially important in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Then in July came the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, which has dealt with how finances can be mobilised for global sustainable development. In September, the world leaders adopted the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ with 17 goals, known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

The other momentous development was the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December that year. Not that everyone will agree with the contents of these agreements and certainly there are deficits in each in relation to what needs to be achieved, but these documents provide a strong basis to moving forward.

Of these, the SDG 2030-Agenda essentially integrates the core objectives of the other three agreements along with other relevant issues, and focuses on the inclusion of everyone in the development process, with particular emphasis on gender equality (Goal-5) that men and women must be equally endowed with opportunities and facilities. This is a key Goal that catalyses actions to carve out an appropriate forward movement of society, overcoming gender discriminations and other hurdles.

Despite the fact that women’s empowerment takes the centre stage of sustainable development, they face discrimination in different aspects of their lives, one of which is wage discrimination.

Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF


Even in the United States, women working full time in 2015 typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. The same can be found in Bangladesh where women get 21.1 percent less hourly wages than men, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organisation.

Bangladesh has come a long way in empowering women and closing the gender gap. Women are joining and making their mark in all branches of the development and society including education, health services, administration, banks, entrepreneurship, military and law enforcement forces, and politics.

In terms of political empowerment, Bangladesh not only leads the region but also beats many developed countries in the world. The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 published by the World Economic Forum testifies to the significant progress women have achieved in Bangladesh.

The Report that covers 144 countries ranks Bangladesh 72nd with an overall score of 0.698 (1 means parity), well above the average global score. The country leads the South Asian region in all four indicators – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Bangladesh’s closest performer in the region is India, lagging 15 spots behind.

What is notable is the progress made in Bangladesh in reducing gender gap over the past one decade. Ranked 91st among 114 countries, Bangladesh jumped 19 spots ahead in just 10 years, even though 30 more countries were included in the exercise this time.

This noteworthy progress, along with the very significant socio-economic advancement achieved by the country in recent years, has been possible mainly because of a conducive policy environment provided by the government, and the indomitable spirits of the people of this country to move ahead against all odds and achieve changes for the better. It is also to be recognised that facilitating support at the local spaces has been provided by many civil society and non-government entities.

Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF


The Constitution of Bangladesh clearly states that “the State Shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity and participation of women in all spheres of national life” and “women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life”. The country also has the National Women Development Policy 2011 and a set of laws to prevent violence and discrimination against women and to ensure empowerment of women, and their equal rights and opportunities.

In conformity with the constitutional dictates as well as the policy and legal obligations and the political will to ensure women’s legitimate progress, the Sheikh Hasina-led government introduced the Gender Budget in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Seven fiscal years later, the Gender Budget now has jumped almost 3.5 times. This amount is allocated directly to promote women’s progress in relation to various issues faced by them. But, the issue of improvement of women’s status also features directly or indirectly in various other programmes.

Despite the advancements women in Bangladesh have made, they still are paid less than men for equal work, as mentioned above, and are facing violence both inside and outside their homes. A 2015 study of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows that 80.2 percent women in Bangladesh suffer domestic violence at some point of their lives.

Girl students account for over 50 percent of the number of students at primary and secondary levels, but their proportion at the tertiary level is now around 40 percent. Though more women are joining the mainstream workforces in the government and corporate sectors, their presence in the top echelons is not yet very encouraging. Harassment of women and girl students in their workplaces and educational institutions respectively, and child marriage, remain major challenges.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), which is a government-established foundation, has been trying to empower women in terms of human capability as well as economic and social opportunities. It currently offers financial and non-financial services to over 10 million households or about 45 million people throughout the country.

An intensive and integrated multidimensional poverty eradication and beyond-poverty sustainable development action programme is being implemented in 150 unions (the lowest administrative unit) across the country, covering around 4.5 million people, half of whom are women.

Previously, women were often used as conduits for borrowing money from microfinance institutions. But, now the PKSF ensures that women play important roles in the management of financial and non-financial services they avail from the PKSF-POs (Partner Organisations of the PKSF, NGOs through which the PKSF implements its action programmes) under strict PKSF supervision and monitoring. These women are thus getting increasingly empowered in their families and in society.

The PKSF also focuses on education of girls and campaigns against and actions within its capacity to reduce child marriage, harassment of girls and women, and violence against women, and also for the recognition of women’s household chores as economic activities.

Since empowerment of women is at the heart of the SDGs, it is of paramount importance that Bangladesh makes bolder moves to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girl children. ‘Be Bold For Change’ thus seems to be an appropriate slogan that has been picked for the International Women’s Day 2017, a day the world observes on March 8th every year.

On this occasion, Bangladesh must renew its pledge to step up efforts to make this country a better place for women, take bolder stances to effectively address the persistant bias, inequality, and violence faced by women, and forge women’s advancement, celebrate their achievements, and champion women’s education.

I firmly believe that men and women in Bangladesh together will lead the country towards sustainable development in a balanced manner with no one left behind, where everyone will live in human dignity, overcoming all odds.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Why a Feminist Foreign Policy Is Needed More than Everhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 06:06:23 +0000 Margot Wallstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149289 Margot Wallström, is Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden]]> Margot Wallström

Margot Wallström

By Margot Wallström
STOCKHOLM, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Lately, the world has tended to present itself in increasingly darker shades. In many places, democracy is questioned, women’s rights are threatened, and the multilateral system that has taken decades to build is undermined.

No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights.

That is why I – when I assumed office as Foreign Minister over two years ago – announced that Sweden would pursue a feminist foreign policy. Today, this policy is more needed than ever.

The world is torn by conflicts that are perhaps more complex and more difficult to solve than ever before. Almost half of all conflicts reoccur within five years. Over 1.5 billion people live in fragile states and conflict zones.

In order to respond to these global challenges, we need to connect the dots and see what drives peace. We need to change our policies from reactive to proactive, focusing on preventing rather than responding. And prevention can never be successful without the full picture of how certain situations affect men, women, boys and girls differently. Applying gender analysis, strengthening the collection of gender disaggregated data, improving accountability and bringing women into peace negotiations and peacebuilding will be key in moving forward.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue
Studies show that conflict analyses that include gender aspects and women’s experiences are more efficient. Rise in sexual and gender based violence can for example be an early indicator of conflict. We also need to take into account the studies that show a correlation between gender equal societies and peace.

Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy and social justice. But overwhelming evidence shows that it is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security. Increasing gender equality has positive effects on food security, extremism, health, education and numerous other key global concerns.

With Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, we bring all our foreign policy tools into play for gender equality and apply a systematic gender perspective in everything we do. It is an analytical tool for making informed decisions.

The feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change which aims to increase the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls, based on the reality where they live.

Representation is at the core of the policy, since it is such a powerful vehicle for both the enjoyment of rights and access to resources. Whether it regards foreign or domestic policy, whether in Sweden or any other place in the world, we see that women are still under-represented in influential positions in all areas of society. Non-representative decision-making is more likely to yield discriminatory and suboptimal outcomes. Put women at the table from the start and you will notice that more issues and perspectives are brought to light.

Despite facing discouraging times for world politics, it is important to remember that change is possible. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy makes a tangible difference. Every day, embassies, agencies and departments implement context- and knowledge-based policy around the world. And more countries are realising that gender equality simply makes sense.

To mention some examples of how we work, Sweden has provided extensive support for the involvement of women in the Colombian peace process, ensuring that significant perspectives were lifted in the peace agreement. We have also established a Swedish network of women peace mediators, co-established a Nordic equivalent and reached out to other countries and regions to encourage them to form their own networks.

Together with the ICC and partner countries, we counter impunity for sexual and gender based violence in conflicts. We also make sure that humanitarian actors only receive funding if their work is based on gender disaggregated data. Governmental guidelines have been given to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, contributing to making gender equality the main objective in an increasing amount of Sida’s specific sector issues.

These are just some examples of how our feminist foreign policy translates into practice, making a difference for women and girls around the world.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

]]> http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever/feed/ 1 Barefoot Solar Warriors Take On Gender Injustice and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:05:19 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149284 Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TILONIA, India, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

On a summer morning in 2008, Magan Kawar decided to leave her village for a job. The very next day, her parents-in-law excommunicated her.

“They were very angry,” says the 52-year-old mother of two from Bhawani Khera village of Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a district 400 kms west of New Delhi."The world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories.” --Magan Kawar

“Women never stepped out of the home alone. To go outside of the village and work in an office alongside men was a disgrace. My parents-in-law said I had brought upon them that disgrace.”

But even as angry relatives and shocked neighbors watched in utter dismay, Kawar traveled to Tilonia, a village an hour away. Here, along with her husband, she became a technician at a rural innovation centre. As the world shut its doors behind her, her husband assured her: “Everything would be alright one day.”

Eight years later, Kawar who never studied beyond the third grade, is one of India’s top renewable energy experts. She is a lead instructor at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a unique innovation and training centre where rural women from across India and the world are trained in solar technologies.

A college for barefoot engineers

The Barefoot College of Tilonia was established four decades ago by Bunker Roy, a visionary educationist and environmentalist who envisoned a place where women with little or no formal education could learn livelihood skills and play a leadership role in their communities.

The skills taught here are many, including sewing, welding and carpentry, among others, but the flagship programme of the college is a six-month biannual course in solar technology.

The course accepts women of 35 years and older, mostly from economically or socially underprivileged communities living in areas that have no electricity. There are two separate learning centres for Indian and international trainees who are called ‘Solar Mamas.’

Each of the Solar Mamas is selected by her own community and sent to the college by their respective governments where they are provided a fellowship by the government of India. It covers their cost of their stay at the college campus, including food and accommodation.

Currently, there are 30 Solar Mamas from 13 countries of Asia and Africa, including India, Myanmar, Syria, Mali, Sierra Leone and Botswana. The latest group is slated to graduate on Mar. 15 – the day they will receive 700 dollars as a stipend for the six months they spent here. For many, this is also an amount they can use as seed money to start a business in their home country.

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama - a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama – a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Learning through sign language

On the final Sunday of February, a group of local youths graduated from the Barefoot College after learning some livelihood skills. At their graduation ceremony, each of the students was presented with a solar lantern – made by the women solar technicians of the college.

The circuit of the lantern is complex, with dozens of minuscule electronic chips assembled on a 4-inch long plate. To teach this complex technology to the trainees when neither teacher nor student speak English or share a common language may seem extremely daunting to others, but the barefoot instructors have their own innovative methodology.

Explains Magan Kawar, “We first make a list of the most important parts and equipment and begin by making each trainee learn by heart the names. That is essential. After that, we communicate by pointing at a part, signs and actions. For example, I will take a circuit plate, point at a part and say, ‘press’. Or, I will then take a cable from the power testing machine, touch this to the plate, show it to the trainees and say, ’power testing’. They follow suit.”

There are no certificates awarded to the graduates, but then, this college is not a place that upholds formal educational norms. Instead, it practices a “very, very simple” method that champions imparting education that “truly empowers,” says Bunker Roy, who is also the director of the college.

“Imagine a woman who never traveled out of her village. Can’t read or write. Takes a flight and travels for 19 hours…comes to a strange country, strange food, strange language and in six months, she becomes a solar engineer using sign language. She knows more about solar engineering than a college graduate. What can be more exhilarating than this?” asks Roy.

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Honing climate leadership skills

Elizabeth Halauafu, 42, is from Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean which considered is the third most vulnerable country on earth to rising sea levels from climate change. Despite its high vulnerability, however, the country has been slow in adopting climate adaptation measures, including renewable energy.

But as Tonga finally wakes up to play a stronger role in climate action, Bayes could become one of the pioneers in rural solar technology thanks to her training at the Barefoot College.

“I have already learned about solar installations. I can build a circuit, assemble and repair solar lights. Once I return to Tonga, I will be happy to join a job that will allow me to use my skills. I and my husband may also start a solar venture,” says Bayes, before recalling that when she returns home, the season of oceanic storms will begin when electricity will be scarce.

A place to share, forget and rise above

Solar Mamas Hala Naseef and and Azhar Sarhan are from Damascus. The government may try to show Damascus as an oasis in an otherwise war-torn Syria, but the ground realities are different: there are frequent power outrage and everyone lives in fear of a total collapse of the grid. Solar technology is not very popular, but could soon become the only source of power if the war does not end soon, says the duo.

It has been a long journey from Damascus to the Barefoot College for both Sarhan and Naseef, but both are quick to point out that the past five months, despite daunting odds, have been a very enriching experience.

“I miss home and the food…but to see other women who have come from difficult places, we forget our own struggle,“ says Naseef.

Lila Devi Gujjar, who teaches alongside Magan Kawar, says that most of their trainees come from conflict zones and carry a ‘burden of pain.”

“Many of them are survivors of abuse, violence and are broken in spirit. But here they find a way to forget their past and get new hope to rebuild their lives,” says Gujjar.

Kawar shares the story of Chantal, one of her recent trainees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was raped several times in her home country. “It was her first escape from the violence. She first cried for days, then just immersed herself in learning. Somehow, she found our informal learning environment very soothing.

“And we also realized that the world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories,” says Kawar, who wrote her own story a few years ago by sending her two children to universities and inviting her parents-in-law to visit the Barefoot College.

“They came, saw me teaching and my mother-in-law said, ‘But it is just women educating each other!’ That day, she welcomed me back into the family,” says the barefoot engineer with a smile.

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16-Hour Days for Zimbabwe’s Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/16-hour-days-for-zimbabwes-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=16-hour-days-for-zimbabwes-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/16-hour-days-for-zimbabwes-women/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:00:20 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149257 Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

As the cock crows, Tambudzai Zimbudzana, 32, is suddenly awakened from sleep. She quickly folds her blankets and strides outside her three-room, sheet iron-roofed house in rural Masvingo.

Picking up a few logs of firewood from a huge pile, Zimbudzana sets a fire to boil water and prepare food for her husband to bathe and eat before cycling to work.“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large.” --Kelvin Hazangwi

“Shorai! Shorai! Shorai!” Zimbudzana calls her 14 year-old daughter who is fast asleep to assist her with other duties.

“My day begins at 4 am, cooking, setting a fire, fetching water and spending the rest of the day in the field or garden depending on the season. My day often ends at ten in the evening as I have to ensure all household work is done, including attending to the demands of my six children, before I put my body to rest,” Zimbudzana told IPS.

She said she rarely attends community activities because of time and work that demands her presence.

Many women and girls carry the heavy, unequal and seemingly natural burden of care work, which is rarely appreciated, not financially beneficial and deeply rooted in culture.

“In recent years, significant evidence and research findings demonstrate that investments in addressing unpaid care burden– by governments, civil society and employers – improve wellbeing, women’s enjoyment of their rights, economic development and reduce inequality,” says Anna Giolitto, Oxfam Programs Manager on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) program.

Since 2014, Oxfam in Zimbabwe has been working to strengthen women’s economic rights by building data on unpaid care, innovate on interventions and influence policy and practice to address care as part of women’s empowerment.

Oxfam has carried out programmes in three districts since 2014 and developed two tools to assess unpaid household work and care of people in the communities: The Rapid Care Analysis and Household Care Survey.

“The key aim is to reduce the time or labour required for daily housework and caring for people, and thus increase women’s participation, empowerment, leadership and representation in both the public and private spheres,” Giolitto told IPS.

Results of the survey showed that women do 3–6 times more hours of care work than men.

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

On Mar. 8, countries around the world will come together to commemorate International Women’s Day, under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work”.

According to UN Women, the world of work is evolving, with significant implications for women. There is globalization, technological and digital revolutions and opportunities for women.

However, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies, and environmental impacts have a negative effect on the well-being of many women in Zimbabwe and the world. As such, they must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.

Women in the informal economy in Zimbabwe grapple with a hostile economic environment, security and customs officials on a daily basis.

Lorraine Sibanda, President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), says, “Our goods are confiscated at border posts due to the limited amount of goods one is allowed to bring into the country. We end up paying more money to transporters in order to get reasonable stock across the border.”

Sibanda added that the transporters’ charges are not consistent and one may pay several times for the same goods.  Further, they have to carry heavy loads of goods over a long period of time, which can have health implications for these women involved with cross-border trading.

“Little or lack of knowledge of customs and exercise procedures such as declaration of goods also contributes traders falling prey to predatory transporters, immigration personnel and other elements who prowl the border post for a living,” Sibanda told IPS.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Office (ZimStats) has noted that 84 percent of the country’s working class are in the informal sector, with 11 percent in formal employment. Further, ZCIEA told IPS that 65 percent of its members are women.

Though Oxfam does not work with women cross-border traders in Zimbabwe, it has used the “four R’s” approach for change.

  • Recognize care work at policy, community and household level, make it visible and value it. Change the idea that it’s just natural activity of women, it’s work.
  • Reduce care work through using time labour saving technologies and services;
  • Redistribute responsibility for care more equitably – from women to men, and from families to the State/employers.
  • Represent carers in decision making.

“Women will be able to do more when there are men sharing the responsibility at home as well as playing a key role in decisions at their households,” Giolitto said.

Kelvin Hazangwi from Padare (Men’s Forum on Gender) also emphasized the need to share unpaid care work.

“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large,” says Hazangwi.

Padare is a men’s forum advocating for gender equality in Zimbabwe.

ZCIEA believes the informal sector is the future, thus gender-inclusive economic policies, formalization of informal trading, decent infrastructure, provision of social protection, healthcare services, recognition of informal traders as key economic players will result in sustainable, inclusive growth.

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Be Bold for Change–Empower Women, Empower Humanityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/be-bold-for-change-empower-women-empower-humanity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=be-bold-for-change-empower-women-empower-humanity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/be-bold-for-change-empower-women-empower-humanity/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 09:30:52 +0000 Robert Watkins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149272 Robert Watkins, is United Nations Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh]]>

Robert Watkins, is United Nations Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh

By Robert Watkins
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The world of work is changing for women across the globe and Bangladesh is no exception. Factors such as globalization, advancement in technology, and the digital revolution have ushered in new ways for women to enter into work. The theme for the International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2017, focuses on “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” under which gender parity in the workforce is the critical prerequisite for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Robert Watkins

Robert Watkins

A McKinsey Global Institute report in 2015 found that $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women, who make up half of the word’s work-age population, were to achieve their economic potential. Gender parity at work is a global economic challenge but efforts at a national level can make a significant difference. While there is a general consensus regarding the urgent need to increase women’s participation in the workforce and acknowledge their contributions to the global economy, we are still far from creating an economy that allows all women to realize their potential free from discrimination or threat of violence and sexual harassment.

Bangladesh has made great strides in improving the lives of women and girls. In the last decade, poverty has been slashed by half; nearly 90 percent of girl children are enrolled in schools; child mortality has reduced by 60 percent. Moreover, Bangladesh’s commitment to the global 2030 roadmap and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has placed gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of its gender-responsive agenda. The Government’s Vision 2021 as well as the Seventh Five-Year Plan prioritizes this agenda and we must applaud their bold leadership in pursuing progress, persistently and creatively, for inclusive economic growth. However, challenges such as poor working conditions, rising incidences of gender-based violence, rapid and unchecked urbanization, limited access to basic social services, and climate change continue to disrupt the progress made towards women’s economic empowerment.

In Bangladesh, the ready-made garment sector remains one of the most important drivers of women’s ability to engage in paid work. Earlier studies have shown that women make up approximately 80 percent of their workforce, but more recent trends suggest that female participation may actually be less than 60 percent. The 2016 National Labor Survey results should shed important light on the overall status of women in the economy. The survey results, upon release, will hopefully initiate a widespread debate around the necessary gender-responsive action required to increase the participation of women across all sectors.

In spite of encouraging signs of improvement in the formal economy, women continue to face enormous challenges in building sustainable and empowering livelihoods. Women migrant workers from Bangladesh – over 169,000 in the last three years alone, as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – are commonly subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and exploitation due to inadequate standards for accountability and vigilance, legal channels and compact focusing on their rights, voice, and leadership. Similarly, in the RMG sector women earn, on average, 45 percent less than their male counterparts and usually do not have the knowledge, skills or opportunities to grow their incomes or savings. In addition, the constant threat of gender-based violence both at home and at work creates barriers that prevent women garment workers from influencing or changing working conditions for the better.

One of the key measures to ensuring women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work is bridging the persistent gender pay gap. According to one estimate, this gap for women in waged labor in Bangladesh stands at 48 percent –almost double of the global 24 percent average. Closing this gap will require national-level policies and regulations, complimented by financial incentives, capability building, advocacy and awareness. We must also recognize women’s unpaid contributions to the ‘invisible’ economy in the form of care and domestic work, as well as address the gender gap in leadership and entrepreneurship. National policies must address the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy, promote access to innovative technologies and practices, introduce climate-resilient jobs, and create safe working environments for women.

Working alongside the Government and other partners invested in economic growth — the private sector, civil society organizations, and media — the United Nations is committed to improving and increasing women’s representation and access to decent work. We are committed to enabling and facilitating access to services that level the playing field and increase the odds for women to fully and meaningfully enter, stay, and grow in their workplace.

In a world where women’s prospects are blighted by regressive norms and attitudes, both men and women have to take a stand for meaningful change. If we are to reach Planet 50-50 by 2030, we have to collectively devise accelerators and implement both short and long-term measures that are viable and effective. The private sector, in partnership with government and non-governmental organization, can do a lot more to improve working conditions for women. There is ample evidence from around the world that companies stand to benefit both directly and indirectly by introducing measures that value and promote gender parity.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we call upon all actors to step forward and work towards achieving Planet 50-50 by 2030. Let’s commit publicly through platforms like the UN Women’s He for She campaign (visit heforshe.org) to set ambitious yet achievable gender goals over the next five years. The Government of Bangladesh’s Seventh Five-Year plan coincides with the first phase of the UN’s SDGs and the timing couldn’t be any better to collectively drive inclusive economic progress, emboldened by bold thinking and courageous leadership.

Join the movement, Be Bold For Change.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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For Societies to Thrive, We Must Ensure Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/for-societies-to-thrive-we-must-ensure-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-societies-to-thrive-we-must-ensure-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/for-societies-to-thrive-we-must-ensure-gender-equality/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 08:33:40 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149270 Ambassador Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.]]>

Ambassador Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

Consider this: gender inequality is costing sub Saharan Africa US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. In a corporate setting, that extent of losses would call for a serious reset of the business’s operational approach.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Despite stupendous advancements in science and technology, it has taken mankind two millennia to fully realize the critical role of women in the global social and economic transformation.

For any country to realize its full economic and democratic potential, the quest for women’s participation in leadership and decision making must be embraced, understood, appreciated and prioritized.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a key international legal instrument that provides a framework for advancement of the right of women. Yet decades after its ratification, women in Africa continue to face significant barriers that restrict their economic and political participation, as well as cultural norms that compromise their sexual and reproductive health.

As we observe this year’s International Women’s Day, it is time to interrogate opportunities for the women of Africa in enhancing the growth trajectory already being seen. The Day must not pass as just another day in the calendar of carnivals; we must use it to cross-examine the impact of our actions on increasing women’s access to economic opportunity, giving women an equal voice in households and societies and closing gender gaps in education.

On the economic front, the deck has always been stacked against women. This is especially unfortunate because women are more active as economic agents in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The continent’s economy is anchored on agriculture where 70% of the population finds its upkeep. In this sector, two-thirds of the labour force comprises women.

Siddharth Chatterjee

Siddharth Chatterjee

Unfortunately however, women farmers have less access to essential inputs—land, credit, fertilizers, new technologies and extension services. As a result, their yields tend to be less than optimum.

In addition, while African women are highly entrepreneurial and own about a third of all businesses across Africa, they are more likely to be running microenterprises in the informal sector, engaging in low-value-added activities that reap marginal returns.

Their prospects of generating larger earnings are limited by lack of basic skills, a lack of access to financial services and the challenges of balancing business and domestic obligations. The result is that women remain only at the margins of formal economies.

Where women lack a reasonable income, society misses out on the multiplier effect that has been so well documented regarding women’s income. Women reinvest a much higher part of their earnings in their families and communities than men, spreading wealth and creating a positive impact on future development.

In a study done in Kenya for instance, the World Bank notes that the health outcome of a child is better when the mother has an income, with the child growing about 17% taller due to more investment in health and nutrition.

The other major reason the continent continues to miss out on the potential of half its population is the gender gap in education. While in some areas gender gaps have narrowed noticeably, as in primary schools, where nearly as many girls as boys are now enrolled. But completion rates remain low, and many girls still are unable to go on to secondary or tertiary education.

Because they are less prepared for the formal sector, the result is a vicious cycle of poverty, ill-health and dependency.

That dependency manifests itself not only in the household where the woman has little or no say but also in little voice in the social and political space. The different experiences of men and women, are best articulated where both are represented in decision making spaces.

Having women in leadership, ought to translate to laws, policies, programmes and practices that takes into account their daily experiences. Having women and men around the decision making table further ensures that their different interests which often speak to their peculiar needs are accounted for.

Economic opportunities, access to education and participation in socio-political processes hold the key to opening up a cornucopia of opportunities not just for women but for the entire society.

The United Nations Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres has said that gender equality will be a focus area of his work as the UN chief. “I have long been aware of the hurdles women face in society, in the family and in the workplace just because of their gender. I have witnessed the violence they are subject to during conflict, or while fleeing it, just because they are women.”

We must change this narrative with resolve and commitment.

To recover the US$ 95 billion lost annually in Sub-Saharan Africa, we have to ensure women’s full empowerment and every girl has an opportunity to achieve her full human potential.

As long as these continue to be neglected, our chances of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals will be greatly diminished.

We must therefore empower women so they can play a full role in sustainable development.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Unemployment and the Informal Economy – Key Challenges for Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/unemployment-and-the-informal-economy-key-challenges-for-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unemployment-and-the-informal-economy-key-challenges-for-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/unemployment-and-the-informal-economy-key-challenges-for-women-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:54:57 +0000 Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149266 Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

By Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs
LIMA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The participation of women in the labour market in Latin America and the Caribbean has steadily grown over the last few decades. But in 2017, as unemployment and informal work are on the rise, there is a continued need to push hard for gender equality in order to create more and better employment for the 255 million women of working age in this region.

Almost half of these women, 126 million, are already part of the labour force – a very important achievement that took many years to reach. Once more, however, it must be stressed that we cannot let down our guard.

Over the past year, as the wave of slow growth and in some cases of economic contraction which struck the region impacted on the labour market, generating a sharp rise in unemployment and also a decline in the quality of employment with respect to some indicators, it has become evident that this situation affects women to a larger extent.

The regional average unemployment rate for women shot up to levels not seen for over a decade in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 9.8 per cent – on the brink of two digits. If projections of slow economic growth for this year prove correct, the average rate could climb above 10 per cent in 2017.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

The unemployment rate for women grew 1.6 percentage points, compared to 1.3 percentage points for men. Of the five million people who joined the ranks of the unemployed, 2.3 million were women. This means that about 12 million women are actively looking for work, without success..

The participation of women in the labour force has continued to expand over the last year. At a national level (rural+urban), women’s participation has gone from 49.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. An increase is always good news. However, it still remains well below the participation of men, which is 74.6 per cent.

The downside was that the demand for labour fell from 45.2 to 44.9 per cent in the case of women. It also dropped in the case of men, although the level remains much higher, at 69.3 per cent.
The latest ILO (International Labour Organisation) Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean also noted that the decline in economic activity has been reflected in a drop in the number of wage-earners, a rise in the number of self-employed workers, and a decrease in formal sector wages, all of which are signs of an increase in labour informality.

The most recent estimates available regarding informality among women indicate that almost half of the female labour force works under these conditions, which generally mean labour instability, low incomes, and a lack of protection and rights.

Several aspects to be taken into account when analysing women’s labour participation have been identified, such as the fact that about 70 per cent of women who work do so in the retail trade and services sector, often in precarious conditions, for example, without contracts.

In addition, 17 million women in the region work as domestics. Women make up 90 per cent of domestic workers. In this sector, the levels of informality are still very high, around 70 per cent.

This description of the characteristics of women’s insertion in the labour market would not be complete without pointing out a notable aspect mentioned by the regional report on “Decent work and gender equality” by several United Nations agencies presented in 2013: in this region, 53.7 per cent of female workers have more than ten years of formal education, in contrast to just 40.4 per cent of men.

Moreover, 22.8 per cent of women in the labour force have tertiary education (complete or incomplete), by comparison to 16.2 per cent of men.

However, this does not prevent the persistence of a significant wage gap. A report by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) noted that in 2016, according to available data, women earned 83.9 per cent of what men earned in similar jobs. The gap is still wider among men and women with higher educational levels.

These figures should serve as a wake-up call.

This issue is already part of the sustainable development goals set for all countries in the 2030 Agenda. Particularly, in Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and is key for Goal #8 on economic growth and decent work. For the ILO, gender equality is a cross-cutting objective, present in all its activities.

We are facing a structural challenge, which must involve economic, social, and, as we know, cultural changes as well. It is necessary for governments as well as social actors to make the achievement of greater equality between men and women a top priority.

Formulas have to be sought to improve women’s productivity, stimulating their participation in more dynamic sectors, of medium to high productivity, while at the same time identifying the causes of labour market segregation.

To continue advancing towards equality in the labour market, it is necessary to resort to a combination of actions aiming at gender equality, including: active employment policies; network and infrastructure for caregiving and new policies for services for child care and care of dependent persons; strategies to promote the division of household responsibilities; improved education and vocational training; incentives for women entrepreneurs; increased social security coverage; and determined action to prevent and combat violence against women, including in the workplace.
Equality in employment remains one of the most important challenges for achieving a better future for workers in the region.

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New Maternity Legislation in Cuba Ignores Fathershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:52:51 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149214 A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

A new set of regulations to strengthen the maternity rights of working women and encourage people to have children in Cuba were seen as a positive step but not enough, because they do not include measures to encourage more active participation in child-rearing by men.

“These legislative changes promote responsible maternity and paternity,” sociologist Magela Romero, who is about to become a mother, told IPS. “There are still aspects to review to achieve a legal text which reflects from beginning to end its spirit of promoting a culture of equality between parents.”

Against a backdrop of a record low fertility rate and accelerated aging of the population, the authorities published on Feb. 10 two new decree-laws and four statutes that modify the 2003 Law for Working Mothers, which was reformed previously in 2011.

The theme this year of International Women’s Day, celebrated Mar. 8, is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”, because improving the participation of women in the labour market is seen as essential to achieving equality.

Romero, who is currently studying the father figure in Cuba’s labour legislation, proposed revising even “the most subtle aspects, such as the title of the law itself, which doesn’t mention the working father, and therefore could conceal them as possible beneficiaries.”

In 2003, Cuba placed itself in the forefront in Latin America, passing a law that ensured working fathers one year of parental leave in case they became widowers or were abandoned by the mother.

But in what is seen as a sign of the prevailing sexism in Cuban society, few men have availed themselves of this benefit. The latest figures show that only 125 fathers requested parental leave between 2006 and 2013, in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people.

In response to the low level of involvement by fathers and to address the fact that many children are mainly cared for by their grandmothers, the new regulations also allow working maternal or paternal grandparents to request leave to take care of newborns.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, just 49 per cent of children in Cuba lived with both parents, 38 per cent only lived with their mother (the majority) or their father, while 13 per cent were at the time being cared for by other relatives.

Cuba is the country with the lowest number of children per woman in Latin America – 1.72 in 2015, according to official figures – in a country which since 1978 has had a fertility rate below the replacement level of one daughter per woman, a situation that the region as a whole will not reach until 2050.

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Romero said the new laws acknowledge new developments that have arisen in light of the current economic reforms, such as women having more than one job, and those that make up the growing private sector, who constitute 32 per cent of the 507,342 registered self-employed workers.

For this reason, women who work in the private sector and have two or more children under 17 will pay only 50 percent of the monthly taxes they would otherwise owe. And people with a permit to offer services of childcare, or caring for sick, disabled or elderly people, will also pay half of the monthly tax.

Moreover, women who go back to their public sector jobs before the end of the year of maternity leave continue to draw the monthly stipend of 60 per cent of their salary. And those with two jobs receive maternity payments for each job.

In addition, families with more than two children pay reduced fees, or are even exempt from paying, for public daycare and school meals.

Hundreds of comments on local news websites have urged the authorities to take measures in that direction and have assessed them as positive, for seeking to ease the heavy economic burden that a baby implies in a country in the grip of a virtually chronic economic crisis since 1991, and which is now suffering a new economic downturn.

Having a baby in Cuba “can be economically a tremendously stressful challenge,” said Mayra García, who is expecting at any moment the birth of her first child. It is even hard for her and her husband, who waited to get pregnant until they had their own house, were economically independent and had stable jobs in their professions.

“And few couples our age are able to achieve such economic independence,” the 30-year-old editor, who hopes to have at least two children, told IPS.

She said it was a good thing that new mothers who return to their jobs before the year is up continue to draw their maternity leave stipend. And she called for the expansion and improvement of public childcare services, to help families reconcile family life and work.

“Currently, public childcare centres are unable to keep up with demand,” she said.

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In public daycare centres, monthly fees per child average 40 cuban pesos (1.6 dollars) and vary depending on the family’s income. With differences per region, a private daycare costs about 100 cuban pesos (four dollars) and some exclusive childcare centres in the capital even cost much more and in dollars.

Marybexy Calcerrada and Aida Torralbas, psychologists and gender experts who live in the city of Holguín, 689 km east of Havana, propose creating support mechanisms in the workplace for more specific cases.

“A quota for subsidised purchases of a variety of products to meet the basic needs of infants and adolescents could be considered,” Calcerrada told IPS, urging “continued encouragement of the involvement of men in their role as fathers.”

She believes that “parents should be given quotas of hours for justified absence from work to take care of children in the face of health problems and school needs.”

Studies show that working women in Cuba earn less than men, despite earning equal wages, because they are absent more often from their jobs, to take care of their children and sick and elderly people in their care.

For Torralbas, the new reforms in the legislation “could have been a good opportunity to give fathers a short period of leave after their baby’s birth. In other countries, the father has two weeks of parental leave when his child is born,” she said as an example.

“In Cuba, women and men think it over carefully before having children,” said Frank Alejandro Velázquez. “They are not the same mothers and fathers as 60 years ago. They have been taught to think about minimally adequate, fair social conditions, infused with gender equality, before having a child.”

This young expert of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue- Cuba, in the city of Cárdenas, 150 km east of Havana, also brought up other issues, such as the “social uncertainty” that exists in this country where the government began to reform its socialist system in 2008.

“These measures are just a step forward with respect to previous legislation,” he told IPS.

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New land rights are changing women’s world of workhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-land-rights-are-changing-womens-world-of-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-land-rights-are-changing-womens-world-of-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-land-rights-are-changing-womens-world-of-work/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:36:28 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149258 Monique Barbut is Under-Secretary General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification]]>

Monique Barbut is Under-Secretary General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

International Women’s Day this year focuses on economic empowerment in the changing world of work. The vision is to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by 2030. Girls’ aged three will become adults with a legal right to work in 2030. Together, with those aged up to 10, these girls are the prime target for gender equality by 2030.

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

But the persistence of the obstacles women have faced throughout history and the neglect of poor rural women in the Millennium Development Goals era, cautions us to focus on two fronts. First, the front-end mechanisms, such as education, that prepare young women and girls for their careers. But we must not forget the back-end mechanisms linked to the land, which dictate the livelihoods of a majority of women in the rural areas. Women will likely still fall back on them in 2030. They are equally vital.

Women’s land rights, one of the 2030 targets for gender equality, is a key mechanism that will shape women’s progress in agriculture. But is change possible?

By 2011, women made up 43 percent of the labor in agriculture in the developing countries. In Africa and Asia respectively, 60 and 70 percent of the adult women worked the land. But in many of these countries, women farmers can only use, not own the land they farm. Worse, in some cases, the surplus they produce or its earnings are seized by their husbands, based on their claim to land ownership. Left in a bind, many rural women, whose primary source of livelihood is the land, farm unsecured or marginal land or end up using the family land unsustainably.

Some experiments coming out of Africa show there are innovative ways for women to get land rights and ownership over their produce, which then create wealth and food security for families. They show that political will is a critical lever for change.

In the Mboula region of Senegal, the regional government allocated tracks of land to women’s groups to farm together to meet household food needs. Women self-organized into groups that work one day a week. The benefits are more than the government expected. Women spend less time working the land but consistently produce surplus food, meeting both family and market needs. The results, combined with the security of tenure they enjoy over the land they use, have motivated the women to seek training to cultivate a traditional tree, at scale. They intend to produce its oil commercially, harvest its leaves for food and improve the land’s productivity through agroforestry.

In Eastern Uganda, the government has taken a similar initiative one step further. It targets women who only possess user rights to family land. Previously food insecure, they have rehabilitated degraded land and are producing a surplus. The environment and trade ministries jointly developed a program to train the women on how set up, run and manage a cooperative. The women are close to joining the formal food supply chain. They are entrepreneurs and job creators in their community.

Small changes can be transformational.

Preparing every girl to become economically empowered is a top priority for achieving gender equality by 2030. The rear view of history cautions that innovating on women’s land rights as we advance towards 2030 will also be vital.

There are many routes to that objective. Rural women can obtain land rights as individuals or groups. When women only have user and access rights to land, enabling them to own and market what they produce is another option. The denial of land rights by culture is not inescapable trap. Where the leadership is enlightened and progressive, it is possible to create new land rights models.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Time to Close the Gender Gap in Africa with Bold Actionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/time-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-africa-with-bold-actions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-africa-with-bold-actions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/time-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-africa-with-bold-actions/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 06:34:14 +0000 Akinwumi Adesina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149255 Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank]]>

Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank

By Akinwumi Adesina
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and to be bold in promoting gender parity.

Akinwumi Adesina

Akinwumi Adesina

Our world would be a much better place with gender parity in all spheres. We need more women as CEOs, in parliaments, as engineers, computer scientists, astronauts, and as heads of state, traditional areas dominated by men.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 by the World Economic Forum estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will achieve gender parity in 79 years. We cannot afford to wait so long. Africa would have lost all the benefits of developing faster with several generations of women and girls.

It’s time to close the gender gap in Africa with bold actions.

Women can play a huge role in societies undergoing conflicts, as peace makers, reconciling communities, building peace and building societal resilience. In Sudan, where conflicts abound, the African Development Bank is providing support of close to $5 million for women to help in conflict resolution.

We are doing more: we are taking decisive action to level the playing field for women’s access to finance. Women dominate the small and medium scale enterprises across Africa. They dominate farming but lack access to secure land and property rights. Yet they pay back loans better than men. When Africa gets the issues of women right, it will finally get agriculture right.

The African Development Bank has launched the Affirmative Finance Action for Women (AFAWA), a bold effort to help leverage $3 billion for women owned businesses, including women farmers.

At the Bank, we are working hard internally to close the gender gap. Of the recent senior management appointments I have made to run the business of the Bank in our 5 regional offices, 50% are women.

The recruitment of young professionals within the Bank is also more gender balanced, and the 2015 cohort shows that 60% are female.

Another positive move within the Bank is the introduction of a women’s mentorship pilot “Crossing Thresholds,” which provides women with an opportunity to develop their career in a structured and supportive environment.

One young participant commented, “It has provided networking opportunities, professional development and most importantly I feel part of a group; it has created solidarity and given women more confidence.”

We are doing better in mainstreaming gender into our Bank operations. When comparing the years 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, the Bank has improved its performance in gender parity in job creation and gender-specific training for jobs. Gender specific impacts of a Bank’s operations by sector are becoming more equal between females and males, and is even higher at 60% in favor of women in education.

The Bank is fully committed to speeding up gender parity within the institution and across its Regional Member Countries. To help with this, we have created a new Department of Gender, Women and Civil Society within the Bank.

We will take a page from the International Women’s Day 2017 campaign and commit to being “bold for change”. We will be bold in our support for women and inclusiveness of women and girls. Africa’s economic growth will be faster and development outcomes better when we ensure gender equality.

After all, no bird can fly with just one wing. Africa needs to fly with two wings in balance. And that is exactly what gender parity does.

So let’s get on it much faster.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s

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Breaking Barriers for Women Is a Short Cut to Economic Growth and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:32:34 +0000 Lilianne Ploumen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149253 Lilianne Ploumen is Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands]]> Lilianne Ploumen

Lilianne Ploumen

By Lilianne Ploumen
The Hague, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

In South Asian societies, as elsewhere, it is all too common for women to be held back, time and again Women’s potential remains largely untapped – which is not only morally wrong, but also economically unwise. According to recent projections, harnessing women’s full potential throughout South Asia would increase GNP by more than half by 2025. In absolute terms, women could earn countries in South Asia an additional 400 billion dollars in the next ten years! clearly, women hold the key to economic success for South Asia: their empowerment can fuel further development. The Netherlands has invested substantially in the economic empowerment of women in this region. Our successes, achieved in collaboration with many stakeholders, show what can be achieved if we keep up these efforts.

It is important to know, firsts what barriers are holding women back. There are several, but all come down to women’s subordinate role in society. Women’s potential cannot be fully exploited until we break down these barriers, in various sphere of life. They need access to equitable and safe employment, education and training. As well as access to and control over economic resources and opportunities. Their voices must be heard and their influence on policy felt. They must have freedom from violence, freedom of movement, access to and control over reproductive health and family planning, and social protection and child care. All these may seem like formidable tasks, but the good news is that many of the investments needed, by public and private actors, yield positive returns on investment.

I can illustrate this using our experience in the garment industry. The growth of the garment industry in South Asia has greatly increased access to employment for women. These jobs offer enormous new opportunities for the economic empowerment of women and girls, who often come from poor rural communities where they are confined to the domestic sphere. The benefits of work extend beyond the economic. These young women gain a greater say in their households, more autonomy in decision-making and more self-esteem.

All’s well that ends well? No. We must not turn away from the violations of basic women’s rights that often occur in the garment industry. Women generally earn less than men, and they often face harassment and gender-based violence. lmproving their working conditions is the right thing to do. And, as independent research confirms, it makes economic sense too.

Through various programmes, the Netherlands helps strengthen the position of female workers in the garment industry. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds a strategic partnership made up of the Fair Wear Foundation. CNV International and Mondiaal FNV to reduce gender-based violence and promote gender equality in the garment industry. It runs projects in India, Bangladesh and other producing countries. In Bangladesh for example, the partnership is working to increase women’s participation in dialogue between workers and factory management. Works councils at the factories and trade unions receive support, enabling them to effectively address gender-based violence.

The Netherlands also provides core funding to the Better Work programme, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization(ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better Work aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in global garment supply chains, and focuses especially on strengthening the position of women in these supply chains. The impact of the interventions is backed up by sound research. An independent evaluation by Tufts University, for example, found that training supervisors through the Better Work programme increased productivity by up to 22%, and traced this in particular to the training of female supervisors. These are important findings, as they demonstrate that promoting women to management positions not only has positive effect on their empowerment but also makes good business sense.

The same approach is followed in a project in Bangladesh that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through inclusive business practices for female workers in the ready-made garment sector. Funded by our embassy in Dhaka and implemented by SNV, the project supports female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable and good-quality. SRHR services and products. The project is running at 19 factories and uses 10 selected SRHR service providers and private sector partners to pilot and test activities that deliver win-win solutions for businesses and workers.

Part and parcel of our approach to increase women’s economic empowerment is to ensure that women have full control over family planning. In response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy – the decision by the new US administration to suspend funding for organisations that provide access to safe abortion or information about abortion – I have established She Decides, an initiative that aims to leverage financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide, mitigating the impact of the US funding cuts.

In conclusion, women hold an important key to economic success in South Asia. By empowering women, we improve both their welfare and their economic contribution. We have made progress in improving women’s conditions in the garment industry and beyond. If South Asia is to reap the full potential of the female half of its population, it is vital to sustain the gains made so far and scale them up fast. For its part, the Netherlands will continue— with renewed vigour – to work with governments, brands, factories and civil societies so as to give women the opportunities they deserve.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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