Inter Press Service » Women & Economy Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:44:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cash Transfers Drive Human Development in Brazil Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:49:41 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz The Morro de Vidigal favela in Río de Janeiro. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:07:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

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

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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India’s Great Invisible Workforce Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:58:10 +0000 Neeta Lal Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reproductive Rights to Take Centre Stage at U.N. Special Session Thu, 10 Jul 2014 19:23:02 +0000 Thalif Deen This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Young Latin Americans Face Spiral of Unemployment, Poverty Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:33:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

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

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investing in youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OPINION: Unleashing African Young People’s Potential Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:24:30 +0000 Adebayo Fayoyin This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

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

By Adebayo Fayoyin

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

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

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

More young people

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

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

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

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

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

The future they want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Healthy, productive and fully engaged”

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

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

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

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Shea Harvesting Good for Income, Bad for the Environment in Ghana Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:14:43 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah 40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zimbabwean Girls Venture into Technological Innovation Thu, 10 Jul 2014 05:56:22 +0000 Mary Kashumba Moselyn Muchena, one of the girls being given a chance under the TechWomen initiative. Credit: Mary Kashumba/IPS

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

By Mary Kashumba
HARARE, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OPINION: Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisis Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:36:38 +0000 Michelle Brane A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

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

By Michelle Brané

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

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

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

Michelle Brané

Courtesy of Michelle Brané

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Bangladesh, a Steady Pursuit of Freedom Wed, 09 Jul 2014 16:09:10 +0000 Kerry Kennedy

This is an adaptation of a letter written by Kerry Kennedy, writer and President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, for her daughters Cara, Mariah and Michaela after a recent visit to Bangladesh.

By Kerry Kennedy
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Visiting Bangladesh has been a lifelong dream of mine, but all that I had heard about a people who love freedom so much that they have withstood great armies, famine and intractable poverty could not prepare me for what I’ve seen in the last three days.   The Bengali patriots’ courage and endurance in the face of the Pakistani army forty years ago is the stuff of legend in our family. I remember your great uncle Teddy (Kennedy) telling us about his visit to the Calcutta refugee camps, where tens of thousands lived not in tents but in sewer pipes.

Kerry Kennedy

Kerry Kennedy

In a small wooden room packed with women in bright saris, we met a proud shareholder of the Grameen Bank – ­the transformative micro-lending institution founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammed Yunus ­– who borrowed 5,000 taka (about 80 dollars) and bought a rickshaw, and then 20,000 taka (240 dollars) and bought a cow, and then 30,000 taka (480 dollars) and bought land.

Thanks to her hard work and the Grameen Bank, she now has a house full of furniture, a field full of food, water, a working toilet and a television set. She saves 100 taka a month, and this year she will receive 100,000 taka (750 dollars) from her savings.

We met a store owner and her husband, who borrowed from Grameen to buy solar panels, which have allowed them to expand their storefront and provide light to the brick house they share with three siblings and their in-laws. “I hope we can take inspiration from the people of Bangladesh and rededicate ourselves to democracy and freedom, knowing that the price may be high, but the sacrifice is well worthwhile” – Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

We met a young woman on a Grameen scholarship who will be the first woman in her family to go to college. She is majoring in computer science and plans to start a business in the Information Technology sector that will transform her neighbourhood.

We met ten women who sit on the board of the Grameen Bank, all borrowers. They’re angry at the government and concerned for the future of the bank. The government recently ousted Muhammed Yunus from the board of his own bank on the pretence that he had overstayed the mandatory retirement age of sixty.

Then, finding no other legal way to do so, the government cajoled the rubber-stamp Parliament to change a banking law for the specific purpose of ousting the impoverished women from the Grameen board and replacing them with ruling party toadies, who, the women fear, will transform the multibillion-dollar bank that has helped so many escape poverty into just another slush fund for kleptocrats to draw upon.

We met a dozen women, many of them lawyers, all of them leaders of NGOs that address pressing issues like indigenous rights, due process of law, violence against women, dowry battles, rape and environmental justice. Many have been arrested, and many live under daily threat. One said her husband had been “disappeared” in apparent retaliation for her work. They are scared of the nation’s security forces, which are known for kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial executions.

And yet they wake up in the morning, kiss their children and their husbands, and return to work, a daily show of quiet courage.

We met a woman who worked at the collapsed Rana Plaza sweatshop who said she never wants to work in the clothing industry again. I met another who said the same thing but, he added, “we are poor, and we must work.”

They were among a crowd lining the hallway and sitting at intake tables at the offices of the Rana Plaza Claims Administration, the non-profit group charged with addressing reparations for the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster [which left more than 1,000 dead after its collapse in April 2013].

It is an impressive operation, manned by a team of dedicated professionals in labour, law and computer science, intent on making pay-outs to every single victim for physical and psychological injuries and to the scores of dependents who lost the family breadwinner in the tragedy. They have 17 million dollars to hand out, and calculate the need will be closer to 40 million dollars, but the fund is voluntary and no law compels the brands to pay their fair share. While some have been generous, too many others have refused to participate, because no law compels them to do so.

We met Adil Rahman Khan, who has organised a team of 400-plus human rights monitors and defenders across the country to investigate and report on violations of voting rights; on crackdowns on free speech and assembly; on torture, extrajudicial execution, disappearances; and, moreover, ­on holding the government accountable for its failures to protect the freedom that the Bangladeshi people won at such great cost 40 years ago.

Adil seeks accountability in a country where 197 anti-corruption officers are presently under investigation for corruption themselves. For his actions, Adil lives under constant threat of death. Last year, after issuing a report documenting a massacre by government forces of 61 protestors, he was taken away and held without trial for 62 days in a filthy cell, ridden with bedbugs and rotten food.

And, of course, we met with my dear friend  [Muhammed] Yunus. He invited us to come to Dhaka for Social Business Day, where people from scores of countries across the globe gathered to share their designs and experiences with creating businesses which seek not profits for shareholders but solutions to problems like housing or food access.

I have always been struck by the sense of peace and joy he conveys.  But I never appreciated how incredible that was until I saw him in Bangladesh.  He is under unremitting pressure from a government that seeks to destroy all he has given his life to build. And yet he endures, and invites us to somehow find peace amidst the chaos in our lives and find our joy through service.

What an amazing place, what an amazing country.  As we in America celebrate our own Independence Day these days, I hope we can take inspiration from the people of Bangladesh and rededicate ourselves to democracy and freedom, knowing that the price may be high, but the sacrifice is well worthwhile. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

* Kerry Kennedy is also a member of the IPS Board of Directors.

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Single Mothers Battle on in Former War Zone Mon, 07 Jul 2014 06:27:58 +0000 Amantha Perera Subashini Mellampasi, a 34-year-old single mother of three, including a disabled child, raises goats to provide for her family. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Subashini Mellampasi, a 34-year-old single mother of three, including a disabled child, raises goats to provide for her family. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
VALIPUNAM, Sri Lanka, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

The village of Valipunam, 322 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, occupies one of the remotest corners of the country’s former war zone. The dirt roads are impossible to navigate, there are no street lights, telephone connections are patchy and the nearest police post is miles away, closer to the centre of the battle-scarred Mullaitivu district.

Here, even able-bodied men fear being alone in their homes. But 35-year-old Sumathi Rajan knows that if she leaves her small shop unattended at night, there is a good chance there’ll be nothing left in it the next morning.

Determined to preserve her sole income source, she sleeps on the shop floor every night, along with her 12-year-old son, despite the very real threats of theft, and even rape.

“I know what I have to do, I know how take care of my son, and myself,” the feisty woman, a single mother, tells IPS, standing in front of her humble establishment.

Rajan’s life has been one of upheaval and turmoil in the last five years.

“I think what these [women] have gone through in the past three decades - as individuals, as families, and as an entire community - has made them resilient." -- M S M Kamil, head of the economic security department at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
In early 2009, when Sri Lanka’s three-decade-old civil conflict showed signs of reaching a bloody finale, Rajan and her family – living deep inside the area controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – prepared to face a drawn-out period of violent uncertainty.

By April of that year Rajan and her son, only seven years old at the time, were among tens of thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in a narrow swath of land in between the Indian Ocean and the Nandikadal Lagoon on the island’s north-east coast as the Tigers fought a final bloody battle against government forces.

The two escaped the fighting alive but with no possessions except the clothes they were wearing. For the next two-and-a-half years, ‘home’ was a massive displacement camp known as Menik Farm in the northern Vavuniya district.

When the family finally returned to Valipunam in late 2011, Rajan was faced with the seemingly impossible task of building her life from scratch.

She was no stranger to the hard decisions that accompany the life of a single mother. Even before the war forced them to flee Rajan had to toughen up, since her occupation as a moneylender meant she had to be firm with her clients about repayment and interest rates.

She continues the business today, facing many of the same challenges as she did three years ago. “When people don’t return the money on the due date, I will go to their homes to collect it,” she asserted.

Her shop received a boost earlier this year when she was chosen as the recipient of a one-off 50,000-rupee (380-dollar) grant from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“It helped me to expand the shop,” Rajan said, looking proudly around at the shelves that carry everything from dhal to single-use packages of shampoo. But new supplies mean fresh fears of theft and little peace for Rajan, who deposits her meagre monthly savings of some 25 dollars in her son’s account for safe keeping.

Stories like Rajan’s are not rare in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged Northern Province, where between 40,000 and 55,000 female-headed households struggle to eke out a living, according to aid and development agencies in the region.

An assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June 2013 found that 40 percent of all women out of some 467,000 returnees who were displaced during the last stages of the war still felt unsafe in their own homes, while 25 percent felt similarly vulnerable venturing outside their villages by themselves.

The situation is worse for families headed by single mothers.

“From field assessments, there is a clear indication that children of the estimated 40,000 female-headed households are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse,” stated a protection update by the Durable Solutions Promotion Group, a voluntary coalition of international organisations and agencies, back in March.

Despite such odds, women who run their own households are some of the most resilient in the former conflict zone, according to humanitarian workers in the region.

“These women have a lot of fortitude,” M S M Kamil, head of the economic security department at ICRC, told IPS.

“I think what they have gone through in the past three decades – as individuals, as families, and as an entire community – has made them resilient. They feel that they can survive [and] take care of their families whatever the circumstances are,” he added.

Subashini Mellampasi, a 34-year-old single mother of three children aged between five and 14 years, is living proof of the truth behind Kamil’s statement.

Her eldest boy is disabled, and cannot hear or speak. To make matters worse, her husband left her and the three children after they returned to their village following the war’s end.

In early 2014, the ICRC gave her the funds to start up a small business. Mellampasi chose to raise goats and purchased a small herd of about 10 animals. Six months on she has a herd of 40.

She has sold ten animals at roughly 100,000 rupees (about 700 dollars) and is using the money to construct a small house. Each beast fetches anything from 10,000-20,000 rupees (75 to 150 dollars).

The remaining animals must meanwhile be cared for, and their milk collected each morning for the family’s consumption.

“It is a hard life, but I think I can manage,” Mellampasi told IPS.

Because the sale of male goats does not provide a steady income, she has found employment as a cleaner in the nearby village school, for a daily pay of about 600 rupees (roughly 4.50 dollars).

She says she needs at least 10,000 rupees (about 80 dollars) a month in order to survive, but other families say they need at least twice that amount, especially those who use transport regularly.

Many cut corners by having neighbours look after their children while they are at work, or pawning their jewelry in order to purchase schoolbooks and uniforms for their kids.

While women like Mellampasi scratch out a barebones existence, thousands of others have fallen through the cracks altogether, according to Saroja Sivachandran, head of the Centre for Women and Development in Jaffna, capital of the Northern Province.

“There are thousands of women who are not receiving any kind of assistance,” she told IPS. “There are limited on-going programmes that target this extremely vulnerable group. What we need is a large programme encompassing the full province and all the single female-headed families,” she added.

But financial aid to the country has been dwindling steadily since the war’s end. Three successive joint appeals for aid in the region have reported a shortfall of 430 million dollars.

With the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also winding down its work in Sri Lanka, a substantial programme for single mothers remains, for now, only a promise on paper.


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From Genocide to African Catwalks – How Rwandan Women are Building their Lives and the Fashion Industry Mon, 23 Jun 2014 08:58:07 +0000 Amy Fallon Rwandan fashion designer Colombe Ndutiye Ituze uses the services of the women who sew at the Centre César, a community centre in village of Avega in Kimironko, near Kigali, Rwanda's capital. The centre runs free training sessions and classes here include course in mechanics, traditional singing and dancing, and silk screening. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Rwandan fashion designer Colombe Ndutiye Ituze uses the services of the women who sew at the Centre César, a community centre in village of Avega in Kimironko, near Kigali, Rwanda's capital. The centre runs free training sessions and classes here include course in mechanics, traditional singing and dancing, and silk screening. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KIGALI, Jun 23 2014 (IPS)

Before Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, Salaam Uwamariya’s husband, a professor, was the family breadwinner, providing for her and their eight children. Uwamariya sold vegetables at a nearby market to supplement their income.

But like many in this Central African nation, her life changed in just the 100 days starting in April 1994 when close to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. Among the dead were her husband and her two eldest children.

But Uwamariya has been able to slowly rebuild her life by making clothes that are sold locally and overseas and which have also even been shown on African catwalks.“It’s exciting making clothes for people in Canada because we’re getting some income...The challenges are now to get a niche business, to get more orders, more clothes to sew.” -- Salaam Uwamariya

Today, thanks to Centre César, a community centre which in 2005 “adopted” her village of Avega in Kimironko, near Kigali, the country’s capital, Uwamariya has learned new skills and is able to support her family.

“I lost my family, a lot of materials, my house, everything,” she tells IPS in the local Kinyarwanda language.

She also lost her parents, aunts and uncles in the genocide.

“I was affected greatly… I can’t express it…”

Avega is made up of 150 houses and has a population of 750. With financial support from Canadian charity Ubuntu Edmonton, the centre runs training sessions for residents whose lives have been scarred by genocide. Classes here include courses in mechanics and silk screening. There is also a school sponsorship programme and daycare centre and a sewing shop where Uwamariya works. Over 85 people are said to pass through the doors of Centre César and benefit from their services every week.

“[Sewing] has improved my life a lot because I get some revenue from it. It improves my life and the lives of my children,”  says Uwamariya, who says she earns up to 3,000 Rwandan Francs (4.44 dollars) for making one dress, which she says takes no more than two days. All sewers are paid a fair trade wage, with the money going directly to the women.

Using industrial machines, members of the centre have been taught to sew by Edison Hategekimana, one of the centre’s two master tailors and the only man here. He taught Uwamariya over a year, but she says it “wasn’t challenging”.

On any given day up to 20 women, including Uwamariya, 58, are packed into a room working laboriously on dresses, jackets, pants, bags, aprons and pyjamas bags and jewellery in bold African prints.

Many of the items they tirelessly piece together are the creations of upcoming Rwandan fashion designer Colombe Ndutiye Ituze.

Strangely enough it was an international counterpart, Canadian Johanne St. Louis, who pointed out the local talent available to help Ituze.

The pair met at the Rwanda Fashion Festival 2010. St. Louis is the CEO of St. Louis Fashion and Dreamyz Loungewear. Ituze launched her INCO Icyusa label, one of Rwanda’s first fashion houses, in 2011.

“I really loved her clothes and I asked her where do you get things done and she told me they were made by these women [at Centre César],” Ituze tells IPS.

“I came here [to Centre César] in 2011. From 2012 all my production was done here. I’ve worked with the tailors in town, but here they are very talented. For large orders they’re the best people to come to.”

When Ituze discovered the centre, she said many of its members possessed basic sewing skills. St. Louis had trained some, and those she trained taught others.

“The first time I came here they were good, but not as good as they are now. They’re improving all the time,” says Ituze.

Today the clothes that Uwamariya and her colleagues stitch together are sold in Ituze’s store in Nziza, Kigali. St Louis sells pieces in her clothing store in her house in Cannington, about 110 km outside Toronto.

“It’s exciting making clothes for people in Canada because we’re getting some income,” says Uwamariya. “The challenges are now to get a niche business, to get more orders, more clothes to sew.”

“I want to partner with other people, with other fashion designers.”

This may happen sooner rather than later, with Ituze and St.Louis talking to more international stores about stocking their designs.

Together they opened DODA Fashion House last September. Doda means, “to sew” in Kinyarwanda.

They have a workshop in Kimironko, Kigali, which will eventually employ four fulltime staff and the plan to hire an additional 14 women to begin training and creating products.

In the next five years their workshop will hopefully offer training courses in commercial sewing, design, sewing machine mechanics and marketing. It’s a huge step for the industry in tiny Rwanda, which doesn’t have a fashion school.

Meanwhile, back at Centre César, its supervisor Alain Rushayidi tells IPS he will only be truly satisfied when the charity is able to transfer its ownership to the people of Avega.

“This centre has to become their centre. In 10 or 15 years this will belong to the members, all of them,” he says.

Rushayidi says a structure to help the centre become sustainable and financially independent is currently being implemented.

“I can’t explain the challenges before we started [the centre],” Rushayidi says.

“We used to have a food bank in the village. We have people infected with HIV.”

Ten years later, he says “of course things aren’t 100 percent better, but lives have improved.”


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Women Herders Bring Change Wed, 18 Jun 2014 16:20:02 +0000 Athar Parvaiz Suma Bhen, a camel breeder in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and her two daughters. Credit Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Suma Bhen, a camel breeder in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and her two daughters. Credit Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
KUTCH, India, Jun 18 2014 (IPS)

When Sangan Bhai, a humble man in the Kutch region of India’s western state of Gujarat, was offered a position as an executive member of the local camel breeder’s association, he made a decision that surprised his community: instead of accepting the prestigious post he offered his wife’s name instead.

His reason, he told IPS, was a simple one; unlike him, his wife can read and write, and has as much experience rearing camels as anyone in the community.

“Sometimes we don’t have much to eat, but we can live with this – what we can’t live without is water.” -- Suma Bhen, head of a family of camel breeders
Meera Bhen, the only woman in the area to have attended school – albeit only up to the fourth grade – was more than willing to step up to the challenge.

“My father was very keen to educate me, but he died when I was very young so I had to drop out of school,” she told IPS. “But I kept practicing reading and writing as I grew up.”

Her perseverance has paid off; she is now one of the few people in the vast arid area known as Lakhpat who can read, write and do basic arithmetic, crucial skills in this community of herders and breeders who have scant formal education, though their knowledge of cattle is unmatched.

Now, Meera Bhen is making history, not just locally but nationally, as her brainchild for the 350-member breeder’s association, known as the Kutch Unt Uchherak Maldhari Sangathan (KUUMS), begins to bear fruit.

“She was the first to suggest that we market the camels’ milk,” KUMMS President Bhikha Bhai Rabari, told IPS. “So we approached a dairy company with the idea, and as soon as the project takes off we will receive double the price for our product.”

A litre of camel milk currently sells for 17-20 Indian rupees (less than 0.30 dollars), making it nearly impossible for this semi-nomadic tribal community – who are thought to have migrated to the Kutch region from Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province over a thousand years ago – to support itself financially.

Some 37 percent of the nearly 300 breeders in the region manage herds of 31-60 camels, but with few formal markets for the milk, they are forced to rely on government food rations.

The breeders, known locally as maldharis, have long expressed a desire for supplementary income. Decades ago, they made a decent living by offering up their camels for transport, or by selling the males for a high price. With the advent of modern transportation systems and the penetration of road networks into rural India, however, they have been increasingly marginalised.

It was these very problem that Meera Bhen hoped to address when she first brought her idea to the association.

If the marketing initiative succeeds, it will represent the first-ever commercial camel milk enterprise in the country. The original scheme, submitted to the state government by the Kutch District Milk Union in 2012, proposed the setting up of a processing unit with a capacity of 2,000-2,5000 litres.

According to officials, the purpose of such an undertaking was two-fold: to provide an alternative livelihood for the maldharis and to promote increased consumption of the highly nutritious milk, which is lower in fat than cow’s milk, and contains more nutrients per single serving.

Given that Gujarat is the birthplace of the massive Amul dairy cooperative, which agreed in 2012 to brand and sell the camel milk, the scheme seemed almost foolproof.

Last year, however, it ran into a legal hurdle: according to current laws governing dairy production, ‘milk’ is only defined as that which comes from cows, buffalos, sheep and goats.

NGOs and legal experts are working to amend the law to include camels, but until they do, the project is at a standstill.

Few people are aware that a humble woman was behind the proposal that has made national headlines. But here among the breeders, Meera Bhen is just one of many women who enjoy a far greater degree of autonomy and respect than their counterparts in this country of 1.2 billion people.

A buffalo for a baby girl

While many families across India lament the birth of daughters, breeders in the Banni area of the Kutch region do the opposite: they allocate a buffalo to every single girl child born to a member of their community.

Saleem Nodae has allocated four buffalos to his four daughters. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Saleem Nodae has allocated four buffalos to his four daughters. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Razia Saleem is one of these girls. A student in the eighth grade, her inheritance already amounts to roughly 3,400 dollars – all in the form of a herd of buffalos.

“This all belongs to her,” the girl’s father, Saleem Nodae, told IPS, gesturing at the grazing beasts. His three other daughters each ‘own’ their respective share of his herd of roughly 80 animals.

Until they are old enough to tend to the creatures themselves, the girls receive part of the monthly income generated from sales of the buffalos’ milk, so they can “buy the things they want,” Saleem added. The rest goes to feeding and caring for the animals.

For their own part, the girls use their allowances wisely. Razia recently spent three years’ worth of her savings to buy a desktop computer. “This is the age of technology,” she told IPS. “I want to benefit from it.”

Right now she mainly uses the machine to practice her typing, and for digital art. “I will start using the Internet only when I really need it,” she added.

According to Saleem, allotting a buffalo to a girl at the time of her birth is an investment worth making.

“By the time she is married, she will have five or seven animals to her name. She can take these creatures to her in-laws with pride,” he said, which will allow her a degree of independence.

Some 10,000 breeders live in Banni, tending to over 168,000 buffalos. The maldharis here are more economically independent than their camel-rearing counterparts, largely owing to consistent demand and formal markets for buffalo milk.

Even so the nomadic breeders live simple lives, moving with their herds over the grasslands for most of the year and residing in modest dwellings during the monsoon season.

‘We can live without food, but we can’t live without water’

Life for women breeders is far from easy. While they are allowed a degree of independence and respect, they shoulder a disproportionate level of the community’s burdens, such as finding water in the dry landscape.

Suma Bhen, who heads a family of camel breeders, says her closest source of water is a dam located roughly eight kilometres away. The journey through the scorching heat is made on foot, leading a camel whose energy must be conserved for the long trip back.

“The camel carries 70 litres of water, which we use for two days,” Eisa Taj, Suma Bhen’s husband, told IPS. “But this is barely enough for all our needs.”

Suma Bhen makes sure her family conserves every drop, using dry soil to scour out their plates and cooking utensils after every meal so as not to waste any of the precious water.

“Sometimes we don’t have much to eat,” Suma told IPS. “But we can live with this – what we can’t live without is water.”

Their son, Saleh Alma, who had hidden himself inside the family’s humble home during the interview, eventually emerged with a scrap of paper on which he had scribbled the message: “It is very difficult for us without water. We want the government to help us.”


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Op-Ed: First Decolonisation, Now ‘Depatriarchilisation’ Mon, 09 Jun 2014 22:42:21 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Lakshmi Puri

At the end of this week leaders of the Group of 77 and China will meet in Bolivia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the group.

From the original 77, this group now brings together 133 countries, making it the largest coalition of governments on the international stage. Promoting an agenda of equity among nations and among people, sustainable and inclusive development and global solidarity have been at the heart of the G77’s priorities since its inception. But none of it will be achieved without fully embracing the agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Bolivia to attend a historic international meeting in preparation for the G77 Summit, exclusively dedicated to women and gender equality. More than 1,500 women, many of them indigenous, packed the room, full of energy. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, was also present – a testimony to his commitment and leadership to this critical agenda.

At this meeting, a message emerged, loud and clear. If we want the 21st century to see the end of discrimination, inequality and injustice, we must focus on women and girls – half the world’s population, which continues to experience discrimination every day and everywhere. The 20th century saw the end of colonisation. Now the 21st century must see the end of discrimination against women.  From decolonisation, we must move to depatriarchilisation.

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, speaks at a press conference on the International Day to End Violence Against Women. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, speaks at a press conference on the International Day to End Violence Against Women. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

This meeting took place at a critical time and in a significant place. Latin America has lived through its own struggles against discrimination and oppression. In a continent that used to be marked by striking inequalities and violent dictatorships, a vibrant movement has emerged to put the region on the path of social justice, democracy, and equality. In Bolivia there is a constitutional law against violence against women and a law against political violence, making it a pioneer in the region and beyond.

This hope for a brighter and more just future must now spread to the world as a whole, and the G77 can play a defining role. The elaboration of the Post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is coming to a critical point. The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is about to complete its work and member states will finalise the new development agenda in the course of next year.

This coincides with the 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the landmark international framework to achieve gender equality and women’s rights. Beijing+20 provides us with an opportunity to drive accelerated and effective implementation of the gender equality and women’s rights agenda and to ensure that it is central to the new development framework.

We need to take full advantage of these processes and their interconnections to ensure that gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment feature prominently in the new development agenda and to accelerate implementation.

We have a historic opportunity and a collective responsibility to make the rights and well-being of women and girls a political priority; both globally and within every country. To this end, the new framework must adopt a comprehensive, rights-based and transformative approach that addresses structural inequality and gender-based discrimination.

This comprehensive approach must include targets to eliminate discrimination against women in laws and policies; end violence against women; ensure the realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescent girls throughout their life cycles; and the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work.

Now is the time to put the full political weight behind passage of long-pending legislation to eliminate discrimination against women and promote gender equality.

Now is the time to allocate the resources to fund services for victims and survivors of violence against women.

Now is the time to strengthen national data collection and undertake a time use survey to better understand unpaid care work or a survey on violence against women.

Now is the time to make public spaces safe for women and girls.

Now is the time to improve rural infrastructure to strengthen women’s access to markets and help tackle rural feminised poverty.

Now is the time to showcase champions of gender equality, to recognise role models that have overcome stereotypes and helped level the playing field for girls and women in all areas, in politics and business, in academia and in public service, in the home and the community.

Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that true freedom from colonialism will not be achieved unless each and every citizen is free, equal and is able to realise his or her potential. The 21st century must see the end of the centuries’ old practice of patriarchy and gender discrimination, and unshackle women and girls so they can fully enjoy their human rights.

When the G77 meets later this week at its 50th anniversary commemorative Summit, I have high hopes that they will make this defining agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment a centerpiece of their global development and freedom project for the next 50 years.


*Lakshmi Puri is the deputy executive director of U.N. Women, based in New York.

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Seasonal Agricultural Workers Left Out of Chilean Boom Fri, 23 May 2014 19:25:33 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Seasonal workers taking a break from a long day picking grapes in the north-central Chilean region of Coquimbo. Credit: Tamara Albarran/Ministry of Agriculture

Seasonal workers taking a break from a long day picking grapes in the north-central Chilean region of Coquimbo. Credit: Tamara Albarran/Ministry of Agriculture

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 23 2014 (IPS)

Tens of thousands of women employed as seasonal workers in rural areas of Chile suffer high levels of poverty and poor working conditions, even though their labour generates huge profits for agricultural exporters.

In 2013, Chile’s agro-exports amounted to nearly 11.6 billion dollars. But most seasonal workers earned less than the minimum monthly wage of 380 dollars a month.

Chile is ranked by international consultants as one of the world’s 25 fastest-growing countries and the second-fastest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which it joined in 2010 to become the only Latin American member along with Mexico.

And according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is the country with the lowest proportion of informal labour in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Nevertheless, there are still casual and seasonal workers employed in precarious conditions, without basic labour rights.

“In Chile there is a large number of workers, and women in particular, suffering precarious working conditions characterised by low wages, a lack of job stability and a lack of legal protections because they are subcontracted or outsourced, etc,” the minister of the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) Claudia Pascual acknowledged.

And the situation is especially bad for women from poor urban neighbourhoods or rural areas, the minister told IPS.

“It’s not the same thing to be a poor woman, a Mapuche, Aymara or Quechua [indigenous] woman, a rural woman, as it is to be a professional,” Pascual added.

The amount of work done by seasonal workers skyrocketed in the 1980s when fruit plantations and exports grew exponentially in Chile.

“The doors opened at that time for wage-earning work for women, who at first were poor rural women,” said Alicia Muñoz, director of the National Rural and Indigenous Women’s Association (ANAMURI).

“But soon women began to migrate from the cities to the countryside – women who became a skilled workforce and leaders of wage-earners in rural areas,” she told IPS.

Today, between 400,000 and 500,000 Chilean women and men pick fruit during the September to March harvest season in this South American country of 17.6 million people. Half of the seasonal workers are women and 70 percent of the women work without a contract, according to a study by SERNAM.

Agriculture is Chile’s second largest source of exports, after copper mining.

Seasonal workers are mainly hired by middlemen – third-party job brokers and contractors – in the mining, construction and fishing industries.

Women seasonal workers bent over in a field in Melipilla in central Chile. Credit: Eric León/Ministry of Agriculture

Women seasonal workers in a field in Melipilla in central Chile. Credit: Eric León/Ministry of Agriculture

But studies and experts concur that the most vulnerable of all are women hired to pick fruit like grapes, apples, pears and peaches in harvest season, due to the total lack of social and labour benefits.

ANAMURI’s Muñoz says the number of seasonal workers during harvest time is higher than the official figure, and that it is actually above 700,000 people, a large proportion of them women, especially in the fruit harvest.

“Today women mainly work on the fruit plantations,” she said. “You don’t really find women in vegetables anymore.”

The wages paid to seasonal workers have remained virtually unchanged for two decades, because the increases were absorbed by the contractors.

“Wages have been stagnant for years, while the cost of living has gone up really fast,” Muñoz said.

So to earn enough money to get by the rest of the year, until the next harvest season, women must “break their backs doing double shifts [around 16 hours a day], to earn 800 or 1,000 dollars a month,” the rural leader said.

As a result, “we have disposable workers, who as a result of exhaustion and the effects of pesticides are sick and unable to work by the age of 40 or 50.”

In Chile, seasonal work is not a choice, but the only option for many, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose regional office is based in Santiago.

“The workers end up poor and worn out because of their health problems,” Muñoz said. “Most of the women seasonal workers are heads of households, which means they have to find other work to tide them over the months in between harvests.”

FAO regional representative for Latin America Raúl Benítez told IPS that when food insecurity patterns are studied, “you realise that women suffer the problem in a different, more marked, way.”

For that reason, he added, “we have been actively working with the different women’s organisations and civil society groups involved in these issues.”

During the campaign for the elections that put her back into the presidency in March, socialist President Michelle Bachelet promised to push for improvements of a controversial bill to create a statute for seasonal workers, which according to the groups would merely institutionalise precarious labour conditions in the sector.

The bill emerged during Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010) and was modified by her right-wing successor Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

It would make it possible for employers and workers to negotiate individual agreements, without the need for collective bargaining through a union, and would not require contracts guaranteeing the labour rights of workers.

“We rejected that statute during President Bachelet’s first administration because it was not heading in the direction that we had proposed,” Muñoz said. “In the last four years, things have gotten much worse, because the origin of the bill changed and it has become more about the needs of business than about the needs of workers.

“Fortunately we were listened to by lawmakers and politicians, and the statute gradually began to be left behind,” she added.

Now, the organisations are getting ready to participate in new talks convened by the government to address the problems facing seasonal workers.

“They called us and we are going to sit down to discuss the issue in an integral manner, for business interests to be set aside and for the needs of Chilean workers to finally be put on the table,” said the head of ANAMURI.

These women, many of whom are the only source of income in their families, sometimes work for two or three months during the summer, while others work for longer periods – four to eight months.

In the case of men, it is almost exclusively students who work in the harvests.

There are also women who figure as seasonal workers but actually work 10 or 11 months a year for the same employer, but on short-term contracts, which means they are not entitled to labour benefits like severance pay.

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OP-ED: Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It! Mon, 19 May 2014 11:21:34 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Nearly 20 years ago, the world came together in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. There, 189 governments adopted a visionary roadmap for gender equality: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

More than 17,000 delegates and 30,000 activists pictured a world where women and girls had equal rights, freedom and opportunity in every sphere of life.We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to position gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment firmly at the centre of the global agenda.

While much progress has been made in the past two decades, no country can claim to have achieved equality between men and women. It is time for the world to come together again for women and girls and complete this journey.

UN Women is launching a year-long campaign to re-energise the vision laid out at the Beijing Women’s Conference. Our goal is straightforward: renewed commitment, strengthened action and increased resources to realise gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights. We call it: Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!

The Beijing Declaration laid out actions to address 12 critical areas of concern for women and girls across the globe.

Governments, the private sector and other partners were urged to reduce women and girls’ poverty, ensure their right to access education and training, safeguard their health – including their sexual and reproductive health, protect women and girls from violence and discrimination, to ensure that technological advances benefit all, and to promote their full and equal participation in society, politics, and the economy.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remains the most comprehensive global agreement on women’s empowerment and gender equality. If only it had been implemented!

Notwithstanding, today we can celebrate progress. More girls are going to school. More women are working, getting elected, and assuming leadership positions. But in all regions of the world, and in all countries, women continue to face discrimination because they are female.

We see it every day. In pay inequity and unequal opportunities at work… in stubbornly low representation of women leaders in the public and private sectors… in the continuing scourge of child marriage, and in the pandemic of violence experienced by one in three women globally – a number greater than the population of Europe.

Perhaps even more startling is the fact that if the Beijing negotiations occurred today, they would likely result in a weaker agreement. We all have a responsibility to keep pushing ahead for full implementation, because every time a woman or girl is held back by discrimination or violence, humanity loses.

Since the Beijing Conference, irrefutable evidence has accumulated showing that empowering women empowers humanity.

Picture it!

Countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Companies with more women on their boards have higher returns to shareholders. Parliaments with more women consider a broader range of issues and adopt more legislation on health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support. Peace agreements forged by female and male negotiators last longer and are more stable.

Studies show that for every one additional year of education for women, child mortality decreases by 9.5 percent. Equalising access to resources and services for women farmers would boost output and eliminate hunger for 150 million people. A billion women will enter the world economy in the next decade. With equal opportunities, their impact on our future prosperity will be a global game-changer.

We can and must turn this picture to reality. Right now, every country is working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and to define a new global development plan.

We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to position gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment firmly at the centre of the global agenda. It is the right thing to do, and the best thing for humanity.

Men and boys, who have been silent too long, are beginning to stand up and speak out for the human rights of women and girls through initiatives like UN Women’s #HeForShe campaign. We call on all men and boys to join us!

Nearly 20 years after Beijing, I believe the world is ready to implement its vision of equality for men and women.

Today we launch a Beijing+20 campaign that will focus on progress, highlighting champions and effective work being done for gender equality. Every country will produce a report on the state of their women and girls, 20 years on. The campaign calls upon leaders and ordinary people alike to recommit and act to turn the vision of the Beijing platform into reality.

From Sweden, where in June people will gather to protect the human rights of women and girls, to September’s Climate Summit in New York, where women heads of State and activists will assert women’s role in protecting our environment, to India, where men and boys will make a show of force for gender equality in November.

And on International Women’s Day on Mar. 8, 2015, people in every country will make their voices heard for a better world.

Together we must achieve equality between women and men. There is no time to waste!

Empowering women, Empowering humanity. Picture it!

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Women’s Executive Director.

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Migration as a Network for Development Sat, 10 May 2014 00:25:17 +0000 Michelle Tullo Numbers or people? Migrants at Lampedusa. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

Numbers or people? Migrants at Lampedusa. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, May 10 2014 (IPS)

On the eve of a major international conference on migration in Stockholm, a major think tank here is calling on the delegates from more than 150 countries to recognise the importance of migration in forging development policies.

“International migration and development are inextricably linked,” says a statement by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) in advance of next week’s seventh Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD).The hope is that including migration in the post-2015 goals will generate greater political will and financial resources to address the various challenges faced by migrants.

Through remittances, the money sent from migrants back to their country of origin, and by creating new networks for technology and knowledge, migration reduces poverty and helps improve access to education, according to MPI.

Banking remittances allows recipients to mobilise their savings to earn interest, buy insurance, and build credit.

“After seven years of sending money home in Mexico, I was able to buy a house for my family,” Erick Chavez, a migrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, who lives in Washington, D.C., told IPS.

Its positive effects act on both a micro and macro level, for both countries of origin and countries of destination. Yet this powerful network for development remains widely untapped, the statement asserts.

“Migrants have been instrumental in achieving development goals,” H. E. Eva Åkerman Börje, Secretariat for the Swedish Chairmanship of the GFMD, at a teleconference last week. “But potential gains are left on the table due to poor policies.”

The three-day conference, which will feature discussions among civil-society organisations (CSOs), followed by inter-governmental meetings that will include Sweden’s Princess Victoria and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, will contribute to the ongoing process of formulating the world body’s post-2015 Development Agenda that will succeed its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The hope is that including migration in the post-2015 goals and creating relevant targets and indicators will generate greater political will and financial resources to address the various challenges faced by migrants, including the costs associated with migration, such as transportation, brokers’ fees, cultural adaptation, remittances, and migrants’ rights to health, education, and fair labour.

“States have come to appreciate the magnitude of migrants’ contributions,” said Börje. “Most directly this happens through higher earning potential and hundreds of billions of dollars of remittances each year which are invested in education, health, and housing, but also through filling needs in the labour market, encouraging trade and skills between markets, and sharing ideas and technology.”

Previous GFMDs have had success in improving national policies, including gaining greater respect for migrants’ basic rights. Some of the key goals at this year’s forum include gaining consensus to reduce the cost of both remittances and international labour recruitment.

Organisers also hope that agreement can be reached on the importance of according recognition by the host countries of the professional skills, training, and education acquired by migrants in their homelands.

Migration also benefits the country of destination, according to MPI.

“Migrants are more mobile than native born workers…so they smooth out some of the discontinuity in the labour market,” Kathleen Newland, director of MPI’s Migrants, Migration, and Development Programme, told IPS.

“Also, there are studies that show a migrant population tends to be correlated with higher trade flows between countries of origin and investment and facilitate FDI (foreign direct investment) in both directions.”

Remittances, a neglected form of foreign aid

Remittances are the main driver behind development fueled by migration. Yet the high costs of relocation, finding a job, and sending the money back home limit their potential benefits.

Erick Chavez had to borrow 3,000 dollars at a steep interest rate in order to get his visa and work in the U.S.

“Back home, I worked 12 hours a day etching designs in stone. It’s very hard work. Here I can make better money…All the money I make here I use to pay my bills, then send the rest to Mexico…I send money about every two weeks through transfers at Western Union. Some goes to help my family, like paying for my brothers’ education. Even elementary school is not really free because of inscription fees,” Chavez told IPS.

Remittances like Chavez’s are an important resource enabling their families to attend school, gain access to health services, and even afford food. The money can reduce individual and household poverty and stimulate local economies to an extent that equals or exceeds the impact of official development assistance.

In 2011, formal remittances to Spanish-speaking Latin American nations totaled more than eight times foreign aid, according to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.

Remittances also affect a country’s macro-level economy. In El Salvador, remittances accounted for 16.5 percent of GDP in 2012. Since 2009, the World Bank has included remittance inflows in its measure of national creditworthiness.

“The important effect of remittances on a national level is often overlooked,” said Newland.

“The money comes in as foreign payment, as dollars or pounds, but is received by local people in local currency…. It has a positive impact on a country’s balance of payments and allows a country to borrow international capital.”

Research on improving remittances focuses on two things: reducing their cost and injecting them into the formal banking system.

Newland named “competition, transparency, and technology,” as the keys to reducing the cost of remittances.

“A number of countries have set up websites that show people different costs of services to help them pick the cheapest one and to place pressure on companies to meet the lowest price.”

Another policy suggestion encourages people to use banks to both deposit and transfer their earnings.

“It’s very desirable to get people to send money through formal transfers instead of by hand. Unofficial transfers don’t get counted in macro benefits,” Newland told IPS.

In addition to reaping macro benefits, banking remittances provide migrants and remittance recipients with financial inclusion.

“Basically, being able to formally save [money], own assets, have access to financially affordable institutions, earn more than subsistence wages, manage your funds well are the ingredients for economic well-being and financial independence,” Manuel Orozco,an  expert on remittances at the Inter American Dialogue, an inter-hemispheric think tank here, told IPS.

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Industrial Agriculture: Too Big to Succeed Thu, 08 May 2014 18:19:58 +0000 Paul Weinberg With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Paul Weinberg
TORONTO, May 8 2014 (IPS)

An estimated one billion small farmers scratching out a living growing diverse crops and raising animals in developing countries represent the key to maintaining food production in the face of hotter temperatures and drought, especially in the tropical regions, says Sarah Elton, author of the book, “Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet.”

The Canadian journalist travelled to southern France, China, India and the province of Quebec in her own country to observe how small farmers apply their practical knowledge of agriculture – defined as either organic, agroecological or sustainable.“We are now aware that the unthinking application of yield-boosting technologies around the world has brought both many good things as well as many bad things." -- Evan Fraser

“What I found most surprising as a journalist was to see how pervasive the social movement was at the grassroots. So, rather than it being a policy perceived by government, people [in the rural areas] are not waiting for government. Government is not there to solve their problems. [Small farmers] are figuring out better ways themselves.”

At the moment a “very big but brittle” global industrial food system is supplying the world’s supply of food, she explains. Typically, it is reliant on the massive growing of single crops like wheat, corn or rice, which in turn are assisted by commercial agriculture inputs such as hybrid seeds, chemical based pesticides and fossil fuel-based fertilisers, as well as an overuse of water.

Global industrial food is praised for its efficiency and high yields and so small farmers get aboard. But in the process some become too dependent on these expensive commercial agricultural inputs by borrowing money to pay for them and thereby incurring large debts.

The journalist relates in her book how Chandrakalabai, today a resourceful and thriving farmer in the agricultural state of Maharashtra in the western part of India, managed to avoid that economic fate.

Originally, she struggled in terms of growing a range of items – millet, sorghum, vegetables and cotton – while simultaneously investing into the commercial agricultural inputs when she could afford them.

By the early 1990s, she made the switch to organic farming, minus these inputs and with the assistance of an NGO, the Institute for Integrated Rural Development.

“Chandrakalabai’s story shows us that smaller farmers in the developing world can lessen their input costs and grow organically. If they can then embed themselves in a local food system with a minimum of intermediaries between them and the consumer, they can earn more money and secure a better future,” Elton writes in her book.

The other problem with global industrial food is that single crop farming undermines the soil’s fertility and makes these kinds of operations especially vulnerable to storms, floods and drought, associated with climate change, adds Elton.

She cites how 880 small holders based farming plots in Nicaragua with diverse crops and minus the commercial agricultural inputs managed to survive the catastrophic battering of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. On average these agro-ecological operations retained 40 percent more topsoil after the storm and lost 18 percent less arable land in landslides.

Isabel Michi carefully tends seedlings in the greenhouse on her small organic farm in the settlement of Mutirão Eldorado in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Isabel Michi carefully tends seedlings in the greenhouse on her small organic farm in the settlement of Mutirão Eldorado in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a stark picture of a hotter future where crop yields decline, demand for food increases and food prices rise.

Farming operations are being urged by scientists to alter their growing practices as a part of a general mitigation strategy for a range of human activity (which also includes reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned for energy) in order to avoid the worst case scenario of world temperatures rising way past two degrees Centigrade.

“One of the things that the report makes very clear is how farmers respond and how farmers behave will have a huge impact on the effect of climate change,” says Evan Fraser, a University of Guelph geography professor, food security specialist and Canada Research Chair in Global Human Security. He worked on an earlier draft on the food section of the IPCC report.

Fraser says that sophisticated weather forecasting tools are being developed to make it possible for government authorities to react before a catastrophic storm arrives to cause devastation to crops, infrastructure, homes and people. And he also maintains that drought conditions represent a far more serious threat to agriculture single episodic events like storms and floods.

“I think that drought is going to be the bigger problem over the long term, in the 21 century. Certainly drier conditions in the tropics are going to lead to significant challenges for farmers,” he says.

With that in mind, Fraser calls for going in the direction of traditional small farmers by planting diverse crops. Furthermore, he say, one should include drought tolerant crops with a deeper root structures to access water. Furthermore, the food security specialist suggests a ramp up of organic matter, be it recycled manure or what is left of last year’s crop, to serve as a sponge in the soil to trap or restore water.

“We are now aware that the unthinking application of yield-boosting technologies around the world has brought both many good things as well as many bad things. Developing and applying new technologies to boost yields into the future will require a deft handling of both science, agricultural extension, social policy, and a very context-specific understanding of the needs local farmers face,” Fraser told IPS.

But experimentation in agricultural practices is less likely to happen in North America where farming operations, because of their size, are tied up in loans and big contracts to corporations in agribusiness and their unsustainable practices, says food security specialist Danielle Nierenberg, president of the Chicago based Food Tank, a food security think tank.

But small farmers, especially in developing countries, are better able through necessity to innovate and so, “we have a lot to learn from them,” she told IPS.

Many farmers have been encouraged to practice more industrial methods and they are finding in the face of drought and extreme flooding that going back to more traditional and indigenous practices they are able to better combat climate change,” says Nierenberg.

But the president of Food Tank warns against a rigid definition of what constitutes sustainable agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, where are the soils can be deficient, “an extra boost” of artificial fertiliser may be needed to make the land more productive, she explains.

Meanwhile, some government and international development agencies including the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation are jumping on the “sustainable” bandwagon without completely breaking away from chemical inputs, says Julia Wright, deputy director at the UK-based Centre for Agroecology and Food Security at Coventry.

“Sustainable intensification, for example, can mean a concentrated form of industrial agriculture, and conservation agriculture – one form that the FAO likes to promote,” she told IPS.

One piece of good news, Wright adds, is that there are a number of national governments which have genuine programmes for agroecological or organic smallholder farmers.

“Bhutan is planning to become the world’s first organic country. Bolivia has some supportive policies. Parts of Germany are quite forward thinking in this respect, and of course the Cuban government supports smallholder organic urban agriculture,” Wright said.

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Divisions over Gender Complicate Development Agenda Wed, 07 May 2014 13:23:05 +0000 Jonathan Rozen A Kopal gender sensitisation meeting in Uttarkashi district, India, ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Credit: Nitin Jugran Bahuguna/IPS

A Kopal gender sensitisation meeting in Uttarkashi district, India, ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Credit: Nitin Jugran Bahuguna/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen

As the U.N. focuses on refining its Post-2015 Development Agenda, divisions surrounding issues of population and development continue to plague consensus on a universal way forward.

“People have to be at the centre of development,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS. “I think we are beginning to see a greater commitment [of governments] to deliver on gender parity, girls rights, issues of gender-based violence and girls education.”“I don’t think that many of these big problems are going to be resolved by exchanging documents and meeting at conferences. It’s going to be what we do on the ground." -- UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Following the 2014 U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD), an annual gathering where member states, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other members of civil society discuss and define goals on population and development, serious divisions emerged regarding issues of sexual health, sexual education and gender.

“The balance of this resolution remains heavily skewed towards peculiar interests of certain developed countries, as evidenced by undue emphasis on selected rights over the real development priorities,” said Fr. Justin Wylie, attaché for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N., on Apr. 12, following the adoption of the CPD outcome resolution.

“I refer in particular to the heavy focus on sexual or reproductive mores,” he said.

The sentiment that particular issues had a negative effect on the conduct of the conference was also expressed by member states with views in support of U.N. priorities.

“We were disappointed that certain contentious issues remained the focus of the conference at the expense of discussing more productive topics to improve the health of global populations,” Nicolas Doire, spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFAIT), told IPS.

While UNFPA may not agree with the views of everyone at the CPD, the agency does understand the political nature of such conferences and the need for inclusive, plural dialogue in adopting the platform on population and development.

“The issue of sexuality, the issue of sexual reproductive health and [reproductive] rights evokes all kinds of things … apart from the politics,” Osotimehin told IPS. “We’ve always had conservatism around our issues.

“If we don’t bring people together in order to construct an action platform that brings all of the groups together, we are not likely to achieve the adoption,” he said.

For Dr. Osotimehin, a human rights-based agenda is essential because it was the foundation for the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. That being said, he also recognises that over the last 20 years, the world has changed.

“Today there are more non-state actors and some of the countries are more vocal than they were before, so we are dealing with a new set of constituencies,” he said. “But if you don’t address rights … you are not going to make the kind of progress we want to see and match the investments.”

Many girls in rural areas of Pakistan say they dropped out of primary school either because there were no secondary schools in their villages, or because they were not within safe walking distance. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Many girls in rural areas of Pakistan say they dropped out of primary school either because there were no secondary schools in their villages, or because they were not within safe walking distance. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Linking population and development

The U.N. Programme of Action of the ICPD Beyond report, released on Feb. 12, outlined the progress made on issues of population and development since the 1994 Cairo Conference.

A primary finding of the report was that where girls have the power make choices in their lives, from reproductive rights to education, they can add significantly to the economic capacity and development of their country.

That is why UNFPA has identified inequality as the primary impediment to developmental goals and defined the adolescent girl as the “face of development.”

“Imagine that you can give her the education she needs to protect her rights … ensure that she can access contraception when she needs to, ensure that she can get good quality jobs, ensure that she can marry when she wants to marry, ensure that she can participate politically. Then, you just changed the world,” Osotimehin told IPS.

This is not to say that ground level cultural needs are not recognised. It is important to engage in dialogue with communities, he said, in order to understand what they need, not only what their needs are believed to be.

Taking action

The U.N. has identified the imperative for direct action on population issues in addressing the associated developmental problems.

“I don’t think that many of these big problems are going to be resolved by exchanging documents and meeting at conferences. It’s going to be what we do on the ground,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, U.N. under-secretary-general and the executive director of U.N. Women, told IPS. “Activism, activism, activism.”

With this is mind, international conferences do provide legitimacy from which actors can work.

“It does help activists on the ground when something has been agreed to [in the conferences], because there is something to hang onto. So you also want those victories. But I think that we must not fool ourselves and think that [with a piece of paper], the problems have been solved,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Beyond 2015

Looking to the ICPD conference in September, the key work ahead will be to reduce divisions and promote implementation.

“The fact that we have a document and that everybody has signed it does not mean that the problem has gone away. Those that feel they have lost will not necessarily implement what is there because it has been agreed to,” Mlambo-Ngcuka told IPS.

Moving the agenda’s focus away from controversial issues to incorporate the range of connections population issues have on development is one strategy UNFPA and other members of the international community are looking at.

“Integration should be big in the next development agenda,” Osotimehin told IPS. “We need to create linkages between one thing and the next … so were actually driving a development agenda.”

“We are focused on building consensus around initiatives that are proven to have the greatest impact,” said Doire.

The importance of a dynamic approaching to developmental challenges is central to the U.N. strategy as it works to build an agenda that includes contested subject matter.

“We need to bring all of the issues to bear when we talk about [population], so that it doesn’t get caught up in the old debates and questions,” Kathy Calvin, president and chief executive officer of the U.N. Foundation, told IPS. “It’s about your country’s economy [and] your country’s environment.”

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