Inter Press Service » Women & Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:58:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142243 Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Women in the Face of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:35:50 +0000 Renee Juliene Karunungan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142244

Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the advocacy director of Dakila, a group of artists, students, and individuals in the Philippines committed to working towards social change, which has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. Karunungan, who is also a climate tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator project, is in Bonn for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings currently taking place there.

By Renee Juliene Karunungan
BONN, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

After surviving the storm surge wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013, women in evacuation centres found themselves again fighting for survival … at times from rape. Many became victims of human trafficking while many more did anything they could to feed their families before themselves.

Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home.

At the Road to Sendai conference held in Manila in March, women’s leaders shared their traumatic experience. For many affected by Typhoon Haiyan, simple decisions such as the freedom to decide when to evacuate could not be made without their husbands’ permission.

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

When typhoons come, women’s concerns rest with their children, but they remain uncertain of what to do and where to go. These are some of the crushing realities poor women live with in the face of climate change.

“We must recognise that women are differentially impacted by climate change,” according to Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women. “For example, women have physical limitations because of the clothes they wear or because in some cultures, girls are not taught how to swim.”

“We take these things for granted but it limits women and girls and affects their vulnerability in the face of climate change,” she noted, adding that these day-to-day threats of climate change are only set to increase “if we don’t recognise that there are these limits, our response becomes the same for everyone and we disadvantage a part of the population, which, in this case, is women.”

Women’s groups have been active in pushing for gender to be included in the negotiating text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and according to Kate Cahoon of Gender CC, “we’ve seen a lot of progress in negotiations in the past decade when it comes to gender.”“Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home”

However, this week in Bonn, where the UNFCCC is holding a series of meetings, there has also been growing concern that issues central to supporting vulnerable women have been side-tracked, and may be left out or weakened by the time the U.N. climate change conference takes place in Paris in December.

“We want to make sure that gender is not only included in the preamble,” said Cahoon, explaining that this would amount to a somewhat superficial treatment of gender sensitivity. “We want to ensure that countries will commit to having gender in Section C [general objectives].”

Ensuring that gender is included throughout the Paris agreement is essential to ensure that there will be a mandate for action on the ground, especially in the Philippines. This is the only way to ensure that Paris will make a change in women’s lives at the grassroots level.

“We want a strong agreement and it can only be strong if we account for half of the world’s population,” stressed Cahoon.

Meanwhile, Collantes noted that UN Women is working to ensure that women will not be seen as vulnerable but rather as leaders. She believes that we now need to highlight the skills and capabilities that women can use to support their communities in moments of disaster.

“Women are always portrayed as victims but women are not vulnerable,” said Collates. “If they are given resources or decision-making powers, women can show their skills and strengths.”

In fact, according to an assessment by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “women play a key role in adaptation efforts, environmental sustainability and food security as the climate changes.”

The women most affected by Typhoon Haiyan could not agree more.

“We are always seen as a group of people to give charity to. But we are not only receivers of charity. We can be an active agent of making our communities more resilient to climate change impacts,” a woman leader from the Philippine women’s organisation KAKASA said during the Road to Sendai forum.

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

According to Collantes, it must correct the lack of mention of women in the previous conventions, and it must also be coherent with the goal of gender equality, the Post-2015 Agenda, Rio+20, and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.

“Without gender equality, the Paris agreement would be behind its time and will not validate realities women are facing today,” says Collantes.

For the three billion women impacted by climate change, we can only hope negotiators here in Bonn won’t leave them behind.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 12:12:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141990 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

If there is any idea and cause for which the United Nations has been an indispensable engine of progress globally it is the cause of ending all forms of “discrimination and violence against women and girls, ensuring the realization of their equal rights and advancing their political, economic and social empowerment.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women has been featured prominently in the history of the United Nations system since its inception. The ideas, commitments and actions of the United Nations have sought to fundamentally improve the situation of women around the world, in country after country.Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Now, as we celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, the U.N. continues to be the world leader in establishing the global norms and policy standards on women’s empowerment, their human rights and on establishing what we at U.N. Women call  the Planet 50 / 50 Project on equality between women and men.

Equality between men and women was enshrined in the U.N.’s founding Charter as a key principle and objective. Just a year after, in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was set up as the dedicated intergovernmental body for policy dialogue and standard setting and monitoring gender equality commitments of member states and their implementation.

Since then, the Commission has played an essential role in guiding the work of the United Nations and in setting standards for all countries, from trailblazing advocacy for the full political suffrage of women and political rights to women’s role in development.

It also gave birth to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1979. Often called the international bill of rights for women, and used as a global reference point for both governments and NGOs alike, the Convention has been ratified by 189 States so far.

These governments regularly report to the CEDAW Committee which has also become a generator of normative guidance through its General Recommendations, apart from strengthening the accountability of governments.

As the torch-bearer on women’s rights, the U.N. also led the way in declaring 1975 to 1985 the International Women’s Decade. During this period the U.N. held the first three World Conferences on Women, in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) which advanced advocacy, activism and policy action on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in multiple areas.

In 1995, the U.N. hosted the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of most progressive frameworks which continues to be the leading roadmap for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in 12 critical areas of concern including poverty, education, health, economy, power and decision making, ending violence against women, women’s human rights, conflict and post conflict environment, media, institutional mechanisms and the girl child.

Since 1995 gender equality and women’s empowerment issues have permeated all intergovernmental bodies of the U.N. system.

The General Assembly, the highest and the universal membership body of the United Nations, leads the way with key normative resolutions as well as reflecting gender perspectives in areas such as agriculture, trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, disarmament and non-proliferation, and many others. Among the MDGs, MDG 3 was specifically designed to promote gender equality and empower women apart from Goal 5 on maternal mortality.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has also been a strong champion of gender mainstreaming into all policies, programmes, areas and sectors as the mains strategy in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Progress achieved so far has been in part possible thanks to ECOSOC’s strong mandate for mainstreaming a gender perspective and its support to the United Nations system-wide action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-SWAP) which constitutes a unified accountability framework for and of the U.N. to support gender equality and empowerment of women.

Strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their role in peacebuilding, the U.N. sent a strong signal by addressing the issue of women peace and security in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which asserted  the imperative of  women’s empowerment in  conflict prevention, peace-making and peace building apart from ensuring their protection.

This resolution was seen as a must for women as well as for lasting peace and it has since been complemented by seven additional resolutions including on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year as the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 is commemorated, a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation is underway.

It is expected to renew the political will and decisive action to ensure that women are equal partners and their agency and leadership is effectively engaged in conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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Fish Farming Now a Big Hit in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/fish-farming-now-a-big-hit-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fish-farming-now-a-big-hit-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/fish-farming-now-a-big-hit-in-africa/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 12:00:18 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141866 Fish farming has fast turned into a way for many Africans to beat poverty and hunger. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Fish farming has fast turned into a way for many Africans to beat poverty and hunger. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

Hillary Thompson, aged 62, throws some grains of left-over rice from his last meal, mixed with some beer dregs from his sorghum brew, into a swimming pool that he has converted into a fish pond.

“For over a decade, fish farming has become a hobby that has earned me a fortune,” Thompson, who lives in Milton Park, a low density area in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, told IPS. In fact, he has been able to acquire a number of properties which he now rents out.

Thompson is just one of many here who have struck gold through fish farming.

African strides in fish farming are gaining momentum at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns as part of its proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire this year.In many African towns and cities, thriving fish farmers have converted their swimming pools and backyards into small-scale fish farming ponds, triggering their proverbial rise from rags to riches

The SDGs are a universal set of 17 goals, targets and indicators that U.N. member states are expected to use as development benchmarks in framing their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.

Faced with nutritional deficits, a number of Africans have turned to fish farming even in towns and cities to complement their diets.

In Zimbabwe, an estimated 22,000 people are involved in fish farming, according to statistics from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Behind the success of many of these fish farmers stands the Aquaculture Zimbabwe Trust, which was established in 2008 to mobilise resources for the sustainable development of environmentally-friendly fisheries in Zimbabwe as a strategy to counter chronic poverty and improve people’s livelihoods.

Over the years, it has been on the ground offering training aimed at building capacity to support the development of fish farming.

The figure for fish farmers is even higher in Malawi, where some 30,000 people are active in fish farming-related activities, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Fisheries are reported to contribute about 70 percent to the protein intake of the developing country’s estimated 14 million people, most of whom are too poor to afford meat.

For many Malawians like Lewis Banda from Blantyre, the country’s second largest city, fish farming has become the way to go. “Fish breeding is a less demanding economic venture, which anyone willing can undertake to do, and fish sell faster because they are cheaper,” he told IPS.

In many African towns and cities, thriving fish farmers have converted their swimming pools and backyards into small-scale fish farming ponds, and many like Banda have seen fish farming trigger their proverbial rise from rags to riches.

“I was destitute when I came to Blantyre eight years ago, but now thanks to fish farming, I have become a proud owner of home rights in the city,” Banda said.

Globally, FAO estimates the value of fish trade to be 51 billion dollars per annum, with over 36 million people employed directly through fishing and aquaculture, while as many as 200 million people derive direct and indirect income from fish.

FAO also reports that, across Africa, fishing provides direct incomes for about 10 million people – half of whom are women – and contributes to the food supply of 200 million more people.

In Uganda, for example, lake fishing yield catches are worth more than 200 million dollars a year, contributing 2.2 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), while fish farming employs approximately 135,000 fishers and 700,000 more in fish processing and trading.

The rising fish farming trend comes at a time when the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has been on record as calling for initiatives such as fish farming to be replicated in order for Africa to harness the full potential of its fisheries in order to strengthen national economies, combat poverty and improve people’s food security and nutrition.

Last year in South Africa, Alan Fleming, the director of The Business Place, an entrepreneur development and assistance organisation based in Cape Town, came up with the idea of using shipping containers as fish ponds, an idea that was well received by the country’s poor communities.

“My children are now all in school thanks to the noble idea hatched by Fleming of having a fish farm designed within the confines of a shipping container, which is indeed an affordable idea for many low-income earners like me,” Mpho Ntabiseni from Philippi, a low-income township in Cape Town, told IPS.

Citing a growing shortage of traditionally harvested fish, the South African government invested 100 million rands (7.8 million dollars) last year in aquaculture projects in all four of the country’s coastal provinces.

In 2014, some 71,000 South Africans were involved in fish farming, according to figures from South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

Nutrition experts say that fish farming has added nutritional value to many poor people’s diets. “Fish farming helps poor African communities to add high-value protein to their diet since Africa often suffer challenges of malnutrition,” Agness Mwansa, an independent nutritionist based in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, told IPS.

Adding an environmental concern to the benefits of fish farming, Julius Sadi of the Aquaculture Zimbabwe Trust, told IPS that “fish from aquaculture ponds are preferred by consumers because they are bred in water that is exposed to very little or no pollution, which means that there is high demand and therefore high income for fish farmers.”

As a result, donor agencies such as the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID) have helped to give Africa’s aquaculture industry a kick-start over the last decade.

According to FAO studies, about 9.2 million square kilometres (31 percent of the land area) of sub-Saharan Africa is suitable for smallholder fish farming, while 24 countries in the region are battling with food crises, twice as many as in 1990.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 report released jointly by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) says that the East and Central Africa regions are most affected, with more than 30 percent of the people in the two regions classified as undernourished.

With fish farming gaining popularity, it could be the only means for many African to beat poverty and hunger. “Fish breeding has emancipated many of us from poverty,” said Banda.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141793 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Strengthen Tax Cooperation to End Hunger and Poverty Quicklyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 16:57:47 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141653 Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

By the end of this year, the 15-year time frame for the Millennium Development Goals will end, with good progress on several indicators, but limited achievements on others.

But public interest has already moved on to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030.

Despite uneven success with the MDGs, the level of ambition has risen, with SDG1 seeking to eradicate poverty and SDG2 to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, all by 2030. Last week, the Addis Ababa Action Accord began with: “Our goal is to end poverty and hunger.”

Almost four-fifths of the world’s poor live in rural areas, which have less than half the world’s population. Hence, raising rural incomes sustainably is necessary to achieve the first two SDGs.

Ending poverty and hunger sustainably will need a combination of social protection and ‘pro-poor’ investments.

As food costs 50 to 70 percent of the World Bank’s poverty line income, poverty and hunger are intimately inter-related, although poverty and hunger measurement generates different numbers.

Agricultural investments generally have the biggest impact on reducing poverty, all the more so, if pro-poor, as well as designed and implemented well. Yet, while farmers themselves are the major source of agricultural investments, most formal financial institutions discriminate against them, especially smallholder family farmers, landless tenants and labourers, with little bankable collateral to offer.

Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030. Most developing countries have long suffered high unemployment and underemployment, with youth unemployment growing rapidly. With current economic prospects uncertain, especially after the recent slowing of the world economy, and widespread insistence on fiscal austerity and economic liberalisation, things are likely to get worse.

With sufficient political will and fiscal resources, poverty and hunger can be ended very quickly with adequate, well-designed and sufficient social protection, in fact, well before 2030. (This is why the G77 group of developing countries insisted last week on strengthening the U.N. committee on international tax cooperation — surely of interest to most developed countries as well.)

The world can currently produce enough food to feed everyone, but most of the hungry simply do not have the means to access enough food.

Social protection can not only ensure adequate food consumption, but also enable investments by those assisted to enhance their nutrition, health and other productive capacities, thus raising their incomes and, in turn, further increasing investments to expedite the transition from the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, in which they have been trapped, to a more virtuous cycle free of want.

According to a recent World Bank report, a billion people in 146 low (LICs) and middle income countries (MICs) currently get some form of social protection. Yet, 870 million of the world’s extreme poor – most recently estimated at 836 million for 2015 – remained uncovered, mainly in the countryside. Not surprisingly, the greatest shortfalls are in the LICs.

In the LICs, 47 percent of the population are the extreme poor, with social protection covering less than a tenth of the population. In the lower MICs, social protection reaches about a quarter of the extreme poor, but half a billion remain uncovered. In the upper MICs, about 45 percent of the extreme poor is covered by social protection.

Last week, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and his counterparts from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presented their new estimates on investments for sustainable hunger and poverty eradication by 2030.

While some may quibble over details, they made the compelling case that ending hunger and poverty in a sustainable way is eminently viable, feasible and affordable, costing about 0.3 per cent of world economic output in 2014. Most MICs can afford the needed financing, but most LICs face serious fiscal constraints and will need budgetary support and technical assistance.

Enough social protection could end hunger and poverty very quickly, but it is not sustainable without higher earned incomes for those of the extreme poor able to work. An early big investment push will reduce longer term financing costs besides providing a much needed boost to aggregate demand in the face of the world economy’s ongoing economic doldrums.

The joint proposal by the Rome-based U.N. agencies not only shows that with the requisite political commitment, we can end hunger and poverty very quickly while creating the conditions for keeping both permanently in the catacombs of history.

Despite the poor compromise in Addis Ababa, quick real progress to enhance countries’ fiscal capacities through more effective international tax cooperation under U.N. auspices can be the third Financing for Development conference’s biggest contribution to this effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Search of Jobs, Cameroonian Women May End Up as Slaves in Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:14:15 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141594 The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Her lips are quavering her hands trembling. Susan (not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.

The story of this 28-year-old’s servitude in Kuwait is mind-boggling. Between her sobs, she tells IPS how she left Cameroon two years ago in search of a job in Kuwait.

“I saw job opportunities advertised on billboards in town. The posters announced jobs such as nurses and housemaids in Kuwait. As a nurse and without a job in Cameroon, I decided to take the chance.”"We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians … [then] bidders came and we were sold off like property" – Susan, a young Cameroonian women who escaped from slavery in Kuwait

With the help of an agent whose contact details she found on the billboard, Susan found herself on a plane, bound for Kuwait.

She was excited at the prospect of earning up to 250,000 CFA francs (420 dollars) a month. That is what the agent had told her, and it was a mouth-watering sum compared with the roughly 75 dollars she would have been earning in Cameroon, if she had a job.

“We work in liaison with companies in the Middle East, so that when these ladies go, they don’t start looking for jobs,” Ernest Kongnyuy, an agent in Yaounde told IPS.

But the story changed dramatically when Susan, along with 46 other Cameroonian girls, arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8, 2013.

“We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians,” then “bidders came and we were sold off like property.”

Susan was taken away by an Egyptian man. “I think I got a taste of hell in his house,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She would begin work at five in the morning and go to bed after midnight, very often sleeping without having eaten.

Very frequently, she tells IPS, the man tried to rape her but when she threatened to report the case to the police, she met with a wry response from her tormentor. “He told me he would pay the police to rape me and then kill me, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Cut off from all communication with the outside world, Susan says that she found solace only in God. “I prayed … I cried out to God for help,” she recalls.

Susan’s is not an isolated case. Brenda, another Cameroonian lucky enough to escape, has a similar story. She had to wash the pets of her master, which included cats and snakes.

“I was sharing the same toilet with cats … I called them my brothers, because they were the only “persons” with whom I conversed.”

Pushed to the limits, both girls told their employers that they were not ready to work any longer. Brenda says that when she insisted, she was thrown out of the house.

“At that time I was frail, I was actually dying and I didn’t know where to go.” After trekking for two days, she found the Central African Republic’s embassy and slept for two days in front of it before she was rescued.

Susan was locked in the boot of a car and taken to the agent who had brought her from the airport.

“Events moved so fast and I found myself spending one week in immigration prison and an additional three days in deportation prison,” she says.

When both girls were finally put on a flight bound for Cameroon, all their property had been seized, except for their passports and the clothes they were wearing.

The scale of the problem is troubling. According to the 2013 Walk Free Global Index of Slavery, about three-quarters of a million people are enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report indicates that for the past seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for human trafficking and labour abuses. Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in human trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Apart from Africa, people from India, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc. … “migrate voluntarily for domestic work, convinced of the employment agencies’ promises of lucrative jobs,” said the report.

“Upon entering the country, they find themselves deceived and enslaved – within the bounds of a legal sponsorship system.”

Susan and Brenda are now back home, but they are suffering from the trauma of their horrible experience in Kuwait.

The Trauma Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking in Cameroon has been working to bring relief to the women. “We try to make them feel at home,” says Beatrice Titanji, National Vice-President of the Centre.

“They have been exposed to bad treatment. They have been called animals. They have been told they stink, and when they enter the car or a room, a spray is used to take away the supposed odour … I just can’t fathom seeing my child treated like that,” she told IPS.

She called on the government to investigate and prosecute the agents, create jobs and mount guard at airports to discourage Cameroonians from going to look for jobs in the Middle East.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Female Commandos Ready to Take on the Talibanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:46:25 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141564 One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

For years, Robina Shah has dreamed of joining the police force.

Ever since her father, a police constable, was killed in a 2013 Taliban suicide attack in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, she has longed to carry on his legacy.

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us. We are fearless.” -- 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of an elite female military academy in northern Pakistan
Such a dream was not easily realised here in the heart of tribal Pakistan, where life for many residents has been suspended between militants and the military since 2001, when extremists fleeing the U.S. invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan began crossing the border and establishing a home base in this mountainous province.

Last year, however, Shah was offered the chance to make her wish a reality when the local government launched a five-month training programme for a small squad of women commandos.

The decision to draft women into KP’s beleaguered armed forces came on the heels of last December’s terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 145 people dead, including 132 students between eight and 18 years of age.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the killing spree, claiming it as an act of retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military offensive launched against militants in North Waziristan in the summer of 2014.

For over a decade the armed forces have very nearly exhausted their options in their dogged attempts to ride the northern provinces of extremist groups. Everything from air raids to ground operations have been tried and failed, with heavy losses on both sides.

“In the last nine years alone,” KP Police Chief Nasir Khan Durrani told IPS, “we have lost over 5,000 policemen [in battles] with the outlawed TTP.”

Shaken by the school massacre last year, the province has stepped up its game against the militants. “We have raised the number of personnel from 70,000 to 90,000, and also become the first province in the country to have female commandos,” he added.

Bringing women into a profession dominated by men is a bold move, not least because militants in the area have made it very clear that a woman’s place is in the home.

But for the local force, it is the next logical step in the fight against extremism: it sends a clear message that women stand on equal footing with their male counterparts, and enables the police to navigate ‘delicate’ situations in counterterrorism field operations, such as inspecting women in potential terrorist compounds, or easily searching the homes of suspected terrorists where female relatives might balk at the arrival of male officers.

Following an intensive training session at an academy in KP’s remote Nowshera District that ended on Jun. 16, the 35 female commandos now stand ready to head out onto the frontlines.

Five grueling months of rising at five am and training until nearly midnight has turned this elite squad into a force to be reckoned with, experts say. Decked out in conservative dress, even in scorching weather, the women learned to handle anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers.

But even more than their training, their grit springs from years of living under the shadow of militancy in a country that has witnessed some 50,000 terrorist-related deaths in the last decade alone.

Women have often borne the brunt of the conflict, including enduring the Taliban’s systematic attacks on girls’ education and a deadly campaign against women health workers. Furthermore, of the many thousands of people displaced by both government and militant campaigns, women refugees are among the worst impacted by a lack of food, health and sanitary facilities.

“It is a matter of pride to defend our people against aggression,” 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of the academy, told IPS. “Our people need us to help them stay safe from violence.”

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us,” she said in a determined voice. “We are fearless.”

Though small in scope, the pilot scheme has inspired officials both in and outside the province to expand its reach.

According to Peshawar-based political analyst Khadim Hussain, the government should consider preparing a “pool of women commandos for the whole country.”

“It’s high time the government gave women more facilities and introduced benefits to draw women to the police force,” he told IPS.

Indeed, education and employment opportunities for women in the province, home to 22 million people, are extremely limited. Women comprise just 40,000 out of 740,000 employees in the health sector, and female doctors number just 600, compared to 6,000 men.

Pakistan’s latest Economic Survey revealed that women are highly overrepresented in the informal sector, performing the bulk of the country’s unpaid domestic labour and engaging in a range of other menial low-paid jobs such as cooking and cleaning.

Meanwhile, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts stands at less than two percent. Experts say these dismal numbers are the combined result of social stigma, religious conservatism and strict familial obligations that keep women bound to their home and out of the job market.

Even those who actively seek work are often disappointed – between 2010 and 2011, for instance, an estimated 200,000 women in KP were unemployed despite expressing a wish to secure a job.

Against this backdrop, the entry of women into the upper echelons of the armed forces represents a monumental step forward for gender equality, and could even spill over into other spheres of life.

Noor Wazir, who ran the military training programme, told IPS that “graduates will be imparting their training to women in other districts and we hope to have hundreds of female commandos in a few years.”

He added that women would not only be stationed on military front-lines, but could easily be deployed at polling stations during elections, in hospitals for additional security or in market places that have long been targets of terrorist attacks, and where women are often loathe to go without a male escort.

Whichever direction the government chooses to take this successful programme, the women involved tell IPS it has been a life-changing experience.

Prior to their graduation in June they had heard whispered doubts as to their ability to complete the taxing course, or withstand the demands of a military lifestyle.

Now, even the skeptical fathers of these young women have come around to the idea that female commandos can handle the task every bit as well as their male counterparts.

Speaking to IPS in an exclusive phone interview, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said, “Hats off to the courageous KP policewomen. We salute and praise them. It is highly encouraging that women are ready to cope with the challenges posed by terrorism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Women in Sport – Scoring for Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:59:12 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141550

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The Women’s World Cup has shown people everywhere what women athletes are all about: skill, strength, unity and determination. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the winners – the team from the United States – and to all others who participated. You are inspiring millions of women and girls around the world to pursue their goals and dreams.

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Women are far more visible in sports today than at any previous point in history. The Women’s World Cup, as just one example, reached tens of millions of viewers, breaking television ratings records. The teams in that event were doing more than adroitly blocking a pass or scoring a goal.

They were challenging stereotypes and demonstrating women’s leadership and other abilities that can readily translate into many other domains. Perseverance and team spirit, among other values, can take women far in business, politics, scientific research, the arts and any other field.

As inspiring as the Women’s World Cup is, however, it also reminds us that gender inequalities still plague professional sports. For example, the women were required to play on artificial turf, which is often regarded as more physically punishing than natural grass – the surface favoured by athletes and provided when male teams play.

And there is the name itself—the World Cup is assumed to be for men, while women require the qualifying “Women’s” to describe their event.The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

Women players also face a huge pay gap. The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

The winning women’s team received two million dollars in prize money, whereas the winning men’s team took away 35 million dollars. The losing U.S. men’s team was still awarded 8 million dollars—four times as much as the champion U.S. women’s team.

Similar pay gaps occur across other professional sports – with the exception of tennis, which since 2007 has awarded equal prize money at all four Grand Slam tournaments. That should be the model to which all other sports aspire. All sports federations should close the gap and put women and men, in this and all other respects, on an equal playing field.

Deeply entrenched, discriminatory notions of women’s diminished status, whether the issue is a playing field or a paycheck, harm individual women and girls. They are denied their rights and blocked from achieving their full potential. Such norms also undermine sport itself, tarnishing notions such as fair play and open competition.

It is time to overturn the barriers and stereotypes, because every step to do so is a step towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Many women athletes, especially in sports not traditionally considered “feminine”, lead the way, with grit and grace.

Sports programmes have been successful in reducing restrictions on mobility and social isolation that many women and girls experience, particularly those who live in poverty, and who might otherwise be mainly confined within their communities and families.

Through sport, women and girls can find safe places to gather, build new interpersonal networks, develop a sense of identity and pursue new opportunities, often in the process becoming more engaged in community life.

Governments, the United Nations, civil society, the sport movement and others have recognized the contribution of sports to the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls. Now is the time to act on this recognition.

Women and girls should be encouraged to explore sports, and anyone who would like to participate should be able to do so. In some cases, this may require increased investments; in others, a rebalancing of resources to ensure equal opportunities for men and women, girls and boys.

Sport and the pursuit of gender equality can be mutually reinforcing — through the creation of role models, the promotion of values and powerful outreach. Both can generate a dream and drive people to strive for change, unleashing tremendous benefits for individuals and for our societies at large.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “If We Don’t Close the Poverty Gap, the 21st Century Will End in Extreme Violence”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:24:03 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141499 Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Implementation of the ambitious post-2015 development agenda which will be adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations depends to a large extent on funding.

Amidst preparations for the upcoming 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) to be held from July 13 to 16, 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, discussions centre on “innovative financing mechanisms” as stable and predictable instruments to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) and fill funding gaps at a time when global growth is flagging and most donor countries are facing increasing budgetary pressure.We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Conceived in the early 21st century in the context of the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), the idea behind the concept is to “invisibly” raise important amounts of income to correct imbalances and provide funding for the most urgent development needs such as eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of education and global health. The mechanisms involved range from government taxes to public-private partnerships.

A prominent innovative finance example is the global health initiative UNITAID. UNITAID is funded primarily through a one-dollar solidarity levy on airplane tickets. The income raised is spent on global measures to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A more recent example is the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). It is currently seen by governments as both a tool to curb financial speculation and a mechanism to raise considerable revenue – which could be used to finance for development. Ongoing plans on an EU FTT to be implemented in 11 willing EU countries might prove as the next step in innovative finance.

In an interview with IPS, Philippe Douste-Blazy, U.N. Under-Secretary-General in charge of Innovative Financing for Development, chair and founder of UNITAID and former French foreign minister, shares his insights on the FTT and innovative finance mechanisms shortly ahead of the upcoming Conference on Financing for Development and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this year.

Q: Which role does innovative finance play in the context of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda?

A: 2015 is a historic year because three great international conferences will take place which are vital for the future of the world:  the Addis Ababa conference on Development Finance, the General Assembly of the United Nations where the international community will launch the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 on climate change in Paris.

In all three cases, the scenario will be the same: a magnificent political agreement but without any financial means to back it up. I want to sound the alarm! If we fail to find innovative financing now, at a time when the world has never had so much money but the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening, the 21st century will end in extreme violence.

Q: Financing for development requires considerable financial resources. Is the FTT a suitable tool to raise the necessary funding compared to other innovative finance tools?

A: Finance is currently one of the least taxed economic sectors. It is absolutely surprising when you know the terrible impact this sector had on international development because of the 2008 economic crisis. Implementing a painless percentage tax on financial transactions could generate hundreds of billions worldwide and as a result, be positively decisive on the fight against extreme poverty, pandemics and climate change.

We are now living in a completely globalised world and those threats are upon every citizen of the world. Globalised activities and exchanges should then contribute to international solidarity. That is what we had in mind with President Chirac and President Lula when we implemented the solidarity tax on plane tickets.

People are travelling more and more, so levying a small portion of the price of their tickets offered the opportunity to improve the access to life-saving treatments all around the globe. FTT follows the same logic. Financial needs are considerable and we need to take the money where it is. Innovative financing tools shouldn’t be positioned as rivals, they should instead be seen as complementary.

Q: UNITAID invests the funds raised by means of global solidarity levies to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. What are your results at UNITAID in combating these diseases?

A: First, UNITAID’s investments helped create the market for some key more effective HIV treatments in 2007, by bringing the prices down from 1,500 dollars/year to under 500.

Second, through support to the Global Fund and UNICEF, UNITAID contributed to the delivery of over 437 million of the best antimalarial treatments, helping the global community to reduce deaths by 47 percent since 2000.

Third, a 40 percent price reduction for the cartridges of an important new test for tuberculosis (GeneXpert) was negotiated for 145 countries, along with USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This has saved over 70 million dollars within two years for the global community and has enabled a significant contribution to the 30 percent annual increase in detection of drug resistant TB cases.

Q: Could you tell me about your planned new project UNITLIFE? What is it about and at what stage are the preparations for this project?

A: We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Faced with this scourge which decimates generations, destabilises societies and severely penalises nations, notably in Africa, we have the duty to imagine a response combining efficacy and solidarity: this is why we want to launch UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE is based on a simple principle: allocating to the fight against malnutrition an infinitesimal part of the immense riches created by the use of extractive resources in Africa in such a way that the globalisation of solidarity matches the globalization of the economy. So far six African Heads of State accepted such a principle. As UNITAID is hosted by the WHO, UNITLIFE will be hosted by UNICEF.

Q: How does a future FTT implemented in the 11 European countries need to look in order to be beneficial and effective? How do you assess for instance the examples of the French or Italian FTT?

A: French and Italian FTT are really disappointing. They are not fulfilling the expectations neither in terms of regulation nor about revenues. It seems that French and Italian governments were just concerned by the defence of their financial sectors.

The exemptions that are organised are preventing the tax from touching the most speculative transactions. Derivatives, market makers, intra-day and high frequency trading are not taxable with the two models whereas they’re the most dangerous.

Furthermore, it’s in taxing these instruments that a FTT would levy the most resources. For the same reasons, a European FTT that wouldn’t be applied on foreign shares will be highly disappointing. Instead of being scared of the reaction of financial sectors, the 11 political leaders must show real ambition and design a strong FFT with a broad scope and preventing loopholes.

Q: How can you make sure that a certain percentage of the money raised by the tax will be spent on development?

A: Seventeen percent of the French FTT is already allocated to climate and pandemics. President Hollande said he will allocate a part of the European FTT to the same causes; let’s hope that the portion will be bigger!

[Spanish] Prime Minister Marianno Rajoy also committed to allocate a part of the revenue to international solidarity but so far these are the only declarations we have. It would be really interesting to see the eleven

Heads of State committing together on a joint allocation to international solidarity. Using the FTT revenue to finance multilateral funds like the Global Fund, the World Health Organization  or the Green Fund would be the best way to be sure the money raised is actually spent on development.

And today when I see those tens of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, which is becoming the world’s biggest cemetery, I want to underline that the only solution to massive immigration from poor to rich countries is to provide what we call Global Public Goods (food, potable water, essential medicines, education and sanitation) to every human being.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Unlocking the Potential of Mali’s Young Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:30:49 +0000 Jean-Luc Stalon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141462 Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jean-Luc Stalon
BAMAKO, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The recent peace agreements in Mali offer grounds for optimism. It’s now time to capitalise on the accord to accelerate recovery, reconciliation and development. An important part of that process will entail placing the country’s youth at the center of the country’s agenda for peace and prosperity.

With its youthful population and track record of civil crises, Mali is the perfect case study on the relationship between youth and stability. Mali’s fertility rate is second only to Niger’s.The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self.

Yet in a country that doesn’t provide jobs, opportunities for decision-making and a sense of purpose, this youth bulge is more likely to be a powerful demographic time bomb rather than a driver of economic growth.

The complex crisis that hit Mali in 2012 compounded the issue, as armed groups found fertile ground for recruitment in Mali’s large pool of poor, disaffected, uneducated youths, enticed both by easy money and radical ideologies. The conflict also fueled important migration flows to North Africa and Europe.

Now more than ever, the country’s youth need solutions that are specific to their daily realities and will discourage them from going astray. Achieving that objective implies helping them out of the vicious cycle of unemployment, violence and poverty. Young women and men also need to be heard and should have a role in decision-making and peace processes.

To that end, the government and its partners have put into place a vast array of youth employment policies, as well as programmes to strengthen social cohesion, reintegrate displaced people and mobilise national volunteers.

These initiatives have done a lot for those targeted, but they fall short of a comprehensive, national solution for reintegrating youths and increasing their prospects for a better life.

In fact, unemployment rates among young women and men seem to have stagnated. In 2011, unemployment rates among 15 to 39 year-olds revolved around 15 percent, yet independent assessments suggest they could be as high as 50 percent when underemployment is taken into account.

As a result, in a country struggling against terrorism, organised crime and social cleavages, more and more young peole turn to violence and radicalism.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we look at youth development. Such an approach would look holistically at how to integrate young people in the economy and create new generations of entrepreneurs, while giving them a political voice and a sense of purpose within their communities and the wider nation.

First, we need to boost education, skills training and employment opportunities while at the same time serving Mali’s economic diversification and transformation agenda. This would require investing in promising sectors such as information technology, and creating learning centers and peer-to-peer networks in close collaboration with the private sector.

In this regard, Mali could learn from other successful initiatives, such as the public-private partnership developed in Kenya to create linkages between the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

Second, young Malians need to feel their likings and aspirations are taken into account in their country’s major decisions. Youth should be encouraged to vote and have a chance at running for office in a political system that favours inclusivity, trust and peaceful change.

The upcoming local elections and peace agreement implementation present an opportunity for better youth involvement and representation in the decision making process.

Third, young Malians need a sense of purpose but far too often their desires, opinions and spiritual leanings aren’t seriously considered. These can include joining a community, increasing their exposure to global events and causes, or creating a more affluent life.

The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self. Doing so would go a long way to eliminating intolerance, conflict and even radicalization.

Young women deserve our full attention. Much more needs to be done to ensure they can exercise their basic human rights, including those that relate to the most intimate or fundamental aspects of life, such as sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from violence.

There cannot be peace, poverty eradication and the creation of a more prosperous and open society in Mali without young people. A more holistic approach would be more effective and sustainable.

It could include new mechanisms such as a trust fund for youths, new channels of inter-generational dialogue and a more global outlook in the exchange of knowledge and development experiences. If we succeed in doing so, Mali could embark on an incredibly successful development path.

UNDP is working with young people from all walks of life so they can find a decent job, contribute to their communities and build a better future for Mali as a whole.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women’s Groups Say Gender Equality is a Must for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:41:30 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141290 By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of negotiations on the political declaration for the United Nations Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Women’s Major Group (WMG) calls on governments to define a transformative agenda to ensure just, sustainable and rights-based development.

The goal of the event “No Sustainable Development Without Equality”, held on Tuesday, was to launch 10 Red Flags reflecting concern about gender equality and human rights and highlighting the areas that need to be strengthened to achieve a truly transformative agenda.

“Gender equality and human rights are cross-cutting priorities but they have never received enough recognition,” said Eleanor Blomstrom, WMG Organising Partner and Program Director of Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

“If we want the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be successful, these issues must be fully recognised as critical priorities,” she added.

Women and girls comprise the majority of people living in poverty, experience persistent and multidimensional inequalities, and bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of financial and environmental crisis, natural disasters and climate change.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), girls account for the majority of children not attending school; almost two-thirds of women in the developing world work in the informal sector or as unpaid workers in the home. Despite greater parliamentary participation, women are still out numbered four-to-one in legislatures around the world.

Gender equality and the full realisation of the human rights of girls and women of all ages are cross-cutting issues themselves but they’re also essential for poverty eradication and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Nurgul Djanaeva, WMG Organizing Partner and President of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, stressed the importance of keeping the private and public sector accountable, especially on gender equality, in order to achieve gender equality and sustainable development.

“There must be regional, national and global reviews and constant data collection and analysis. Likewise, all the results need to be measured,” she said.

“Transparent and inclusive processes, as well as effective monitoring and evaluative mechanisms, are a must here. A lack of accountability tools is considered as a violation of human rights”, she added.

Speakers at the event also put special emphasis on the key role played by feminist organisations at both the grassroots and international levels, as well as the urgent need for international cooperation and public-private partnerships to achieve gender equality and therefore sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Sub-Saharan Africa, Addis and Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-sub-saharan-africa-addis-and-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sub-saharan-africa-addis-and-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-sub-saharan-africa-addis-and-paris/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:53:19 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudi von Arnim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141254 Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudi von Arnim
ROME, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

After the turn of the century, growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) picked up again after a quarter century of near stagnation for most, mainly due to increased world demand for minerals and other natural resources.

The region became second only to East Asia in recovering from the global slowdown following the 2008-2009 financial crisis.Thanks to the failure of development over the preceding quarter century, SSA was the only region not to make any progress in reducing the population share in poverty, with the number of poor people actually rising significantly.

During the decade 2003-2013, growth was faster, averaging 2.6 percent per capita annually. The SSA growth acceleration of the past decade fueled hopes that growth on the continent had finally begun to accelerate and catch up.

Annual SSA per capita real GDP growth had averaged a respectable two percent in the 1960s, but had slowed down from the late 1970s. Over the next two decades, real per capita income for sub-Saharan countries shrank by about three quarters of a percentage point annually on average.

While SSA growth resumed in the last decade, reliance on natural resource extraction has compromised its developmental impact. Such economic activity, especially in mining, has few linkages to the rest of the national economy, thus limiting its growth and employment creation impacts as well.

As its economic performance has closely followed the vagaries of the global commodity price cycle, SSA growth in the last decade was largely driven by the minerals boom on the continent.

But the high commodity prices of the past decade have been reversed by the spreading global economic slowdown and the Saudi decision to drastically reduce oil prices.

However, natural resource extraction does not have the same potential to accelerate development as manufacturing. No country has successfully developed without substantially increasing manufacturing or high-end services. Sub-Saharan Africa has not done well on this score in recent decades.

While the manufacturing share of GDP for all developing countries has risen over 23 percent, it has fallen in SSA to 8 percent from 12 percent in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the primary commodities’ share of total SSA exports reached almost 90 percent in the past decade.

Premature and inappropriate trade liberalisation has damaged SSA’s limited export capacities. The region’s share of world merchandise exports fell from 5 percent in the 1950s to 1.8 percent during 2000-2010. Meanwhile, its share of world manufactured exports stands at a paltry one-fifth of one percentage point.

Trade liberalisation has also undermined the fiscal capacities of many governments in poor countries, with dire consequences for development and social progress.

Since many transactions in developing countries are informal, and hence untaxed, poor developing country governments have traditionally relied on trade tariffs to raise revenue.

Thus, trade liberalisation has reduced their ability to raise revenue, without providing alternate sources. As a consequence, the share of government spending in GDP has fallen from an average of around 16 percent during 1980-1999 to 13 percent during recent years.

Thus, neither trade nor financial liberalisation has helped accelerate economic growth in SSA. Growth requires investments, but investment as a share of SSA GDP has fallen in recent decades, to only 17 percent before the crisis.

External financial liberalisation from the 1980s was supposed to draw in foreign resources, but portfolio investments in SSA are negligible, and more crucially, ill-suited to facilitate sustainable growth.

Instead, there have been net outflows of capital from the world’s poorest region to international financial centres, including tax havens.

Appropriately targeted ‘greenfield’ foreign direct investment (FDI) has more potential to make a positive impact. However, Africa’s share of FDI to all developing economies has fallen from 21 percent in the 1970s to only 11 percent in recent years, or from 5 percent to 3 percent of global FDI.

To make matters worse, FDI in SSA overwhelmingly involves natural resource extraction, with few developmental spillovers from such investments.

According to World Bank estimates, the share of the SSA population living in extreme poverty rose from 50 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 1998 before falling back to 50 percent in 2005.

Thanks to the failure of development over the preceding quarter century, SSA was the only region not to make any progress in reducing the population share in poverty, with the number of poor people actually rising significantly.

A decade ago, in 2005, the G8 summit at Gleneagles committed to increasing Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 50 billion dollars by 2010. The Gleneagles summit also promised to increase ODA to Africa by 25 billion dollars to 64 billion. Actual delivery fell short by 18 billion dollars, or by 72 percent!

In 2012 dollars, annual ODA to SSA hovered around 50 billion during 2006-2013, up from about 42 billion in 2005, but well short of what was promised. G8 aid to Africa falls well short of promised levels, even below the contributions from the small Nordic countries.

Not surprisingly, the recent G7 summit made no reference to the Gleneagles promises. Instead, it focused on addressing climate change, and it seems likely that climate finance conditionalities will undermine the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities.

The struggle leading to the Conference of Parties in Paris will be to ensure that climate finance will be additional to the longstanding ODA promises, and will promote climate justice and development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 05:57:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141212 Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TIKAMGARH, India, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Eighty-year-old Chenabai Kushwaha sits on a charpoy under a neem tree in the village of Chitawar, located in the Tikamgarh district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, staring intently at a dictaphone.

“Please sing a song for us,” urges the woman holding the voice recorder. Kushwaha obliges with a melancholy tune about an eight-year-old girl begging her father not to give her away in marriage.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region." -- Naheda Yusuf, head of Radio Bundelkhand
The melody melts into the summer air, and the motley crowd that has gathered around the tree falls silent.

“Thanks for so much for singing to ‘Radio Bundelkhand’,” says Ekta Kari, a reporter-producer at the community radio station based in this predominantly farming district, before switching off the device.

With a listenership of some 250,000 people spread across over a dozen villages in Bundelkhand, an agricultural region split between the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the station is lifting up some of India’s most beaten down communities by getting their voices out on the airwaves and bearing good tidings in a place long accustomed to nothing but bad news.

Endless hardships

Some 18.3 million people occupy this vast region. The majority of them are farmers, and the list of hardships they face on a daily basis is endless.

According to the Planning Commission of India, a loss of soil fertility caused by erratic weather, coupled with severe depletion of the groundwater table, has made life extremely hard for those who work the land.

Crop losses due to unseasonal rains and recurring heat waves have also become common over the last decade. Last year, a majority of farmers lost over half of their winter crop due to unexpected heavy rains.

Two out of every three farmers interviewed by IPS concurred that extreme weather has made farming, already a backbreaking occupation, something of a nightmare in these parts.

Recurring droughts between 2003 and 2010 forced many people to abandon traditional mixed cropping of millets and pulses and switch to mono-cultures like wheat, which require heavy inputs.

NGOs have also pointed to unequal land distribution policies in the region as a major cause of farmers’ strife, with millions of families unable to practice anything beyond very small-scale, subsistence agriculture given the paltry size of their plots.

Earlier this year, plagued by poor weather, miserable harvests and alleged apathy to their plight by both state and federal government bodies, scores of starving and debt-ridden farmers threw in the towel.

In the first two weeks of March, roughly a dozen farmers in Bundelkhand had committed suicide.

This follows a pattern in the region that speaks to the desperation these rural communities face – according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3,000 farmers in Bundelkhand committed suicide between 1995 and 2012.

While this represents only a fraction of all suicides across the country’s agricultural belt, which is now approaching 300,000, Bundelkhand’s death toll is no trifling number.

Given this harsh reality, an outsider might find it hard to fathom how an intervention as simple as a community radio station could make a difference. But for the listeners who toil here daily, the radio has become something of a lifeline.

“Our station, our issues”

Naheda Yusuf, a senior programme manager at the Delhi-based media non-profit Development Alternatives, which helped launch Radio Bundelkhand back in 2008, tells IPS that 99 percent of the listeners are farmers.

Although the villages that make up the bulk of the audience lie in different states, they all fall into the larger Bundelkhand region and so share a distinct culture, traditions and dialect.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region,” Yusuf explains. “It connects with them in their Bundeli dialect, and provides information on issues that concern them.”

Over 75 percent of the shows are dedicated to agricultural issues including farming techniques, pest control practices, market prices, weather forecasts, and climate change updates.

While some of the information is sourced daily from government agencies like the departments of agriculture and meteorology, most of it comes from six reporter-producers who interact directly with the community to gather news and views most relevant to their listeners.

Every day, each of them produces at least one live show, during which the audience is asked to call in with their questions and comments.

“It’s your show,” one commentator announces on the air, “so if you don’t share your opinions, we can’t get it right.”

One of the most popular shows on Radio Bundelkhand is ‘Shuv Kal’ meaning good tomorrow. Its central theme is climate change and its effect on the farming community.

One of the show’s two producers, Gauri Sharma, says they discuss water access, deforestation and solar energy. They also pay homage to the river Betwa, a tributary of the Yamuna that waters these lands, and encourages farmers not to waste the precious resource.

“We discuss planting trees around the farms, so excess water from irrigation pumps can be utilised,” Sharma tells IPS. “We also spread awareness about renewable energy.”

The response from the audience has been encouraging, she adds, especially among the youth who call and write in to share how the station has shaped their practices.

In one such letter, an 18-year-old farmer from the village of Tafarian shared that he had “planted 22 fruit trees around his farm, stopped using polythene and begun vermicomposting” as a result of listening to the show.

Portable, affordable, accessible

Another listener, Jayanti Bai of Vaswan village, says the radio station literally saved her entire crop. “The leaves of my okra plants were turning yellow,” she tells IPS. “Then I heard of a medicine on the radio, which I sprayed on the leaves – it saved me.”

She now wants to buy a radio for the entire community and tie it to a tree so the women in her neighbourhood can listen to it together. It will take some saving – the most popular device used here costs about 1,000 rupees (about 15 dollars) and that is more than she can afford in one go.

But in a region that experiences eight to 10 hours of power cuts a day, and where only 48 percent of the female population and just over 70 percent of the male population is literate, a radio is a far more viable option than a television, or newspapers.

Farmers also tell IPS a radio’s portability makes it a more attractive choice since it can be taken to “work” – meaning carried into the fields and played loud enough for workers to hear as they go about their tasks.

Because the station caters to a largely female audience, it tackles issues that are particularly relevant to women listeners. One of these is the question of suicide, which many women see as a male phenomenon.

“Have you ever heard of a woman farmer committing suicide?” asks 46-year-old Ramkumari Napet, of Baswan village. “It is because she thinks, ‘What will happen to my children when I am gone?’”

Women contend that men require more help in understanding their relationships both to themselves and their families. And indeed, the radio station is helping them determine these blurry lines.

“Last week an anonymous caller said his brother was thinking of committing suicide,” Sharma tells IPS. “He [the caller] said he was going to try to talk his brother out of it.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: No Place to Hide in Addishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:16:38 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141200

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign.

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

My colleagues just got back from Munich, where we held a summit bringing together over 250 young volunteers from across Europe. These youngsters campaigned in the run-up to and at the doorstep of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, as one of the key moments in a year brimming with opportunities to tackle extreme poverty.

It’s inspiring to work with these young activists – their enthusiasm and creativity are humbling. But the other thing about young people is that they don’t let anyone pull the wool over their eyes. Euphemisms don’t stick; skirting the point doesn’t get you very far. They keep us on our toes and that is not a bad thing at all.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

But some phenomena I am simply at a loss to explain. One such paradox is the fact that only a third of aid goes to the very poorest countries, and that aid to those countries has been declining. Yet in the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’, 43 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty, compared to 13 percent in other countries.

This begs so many questions it is dizzying. How are we going to eradicate extreme poverty if we don’t prioritise the countries that need aid the most? What is aid for if not helping the poorest?

Why are we cutting aid to the poorest countries when it is the middle income countries that are becoming more able to mobilise their own sources of financing for development? And why aren’t leaders doing anything to reverse this perverse trend?

Instead, EU development ministers in May recommitted to the existing promise of providing 0.7 percent of national income in aid, and up to 0.2 percent of national income in aid to the least developed countries – this time “within the timeframe” of the post-2015 agenda to be adopted in September.

But even if they achieved both targets by say, 2025, that would still mean a share of only 28.6 percent of total aid going to the poorest countries. In other words: business as usual. This is where any young person would detect the glaring no-brainer, and unapologetically probe “… but isn’t that too little, too late?”Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone.

Whereas the Millennium Development Goals – global anti-poverty goals agreed in the year 2000 – allowed us to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of bringing down average levels of extreme poverty and child mortality, this year’s new set of ‘Global Goals’ is all about finishing the job.

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone. We need to frontload our efforts and put the poorest and most vulnerable at the centre of our approach from the get-go.

That is why donors must commit to spending at least half of their aid on the poorest countries, and to doing this by 2020, so that those countries have time to tackle the Global Goals in time for the 2030 deadline.

This is but one of the debates that are heating up in the final weeks before the Summit in Addis Ababa in July, where world leaders will come together to decide on how to finance development. Negotiations touch upon topics that go well beyond aid, and rightly so, in an attempt to unlock new sources of financing such as domestic resource mobilisation and private sector investment.

Sadly though, many of the discussions are still being held hostage by the impasse on aid commitments. Indeed, donor countries’ laborious reaffirmation of decade-old broken promises does not inspire confidence that they are committed to doing things differently this time.

What, then, can change the game at this point? For one, let’s kick things up a level and bring in the big bosses. We fully expect heads of state to be in attendance in Addis – but even before then, the leaders of all 28 EU Member States are getting together for their own summit at the end of June.

Here they have the authority to agree on a more ambitious commitment than the development ministers managed to broker last month. Announcing an EU-wide intent to direct at least half of collective aid to the least developed countries would send a strong political message that could spark a much-needed race to the top in the final sprint towards Addis.

Another sure way to guarantee the success of this Summit is to inject more political will into the discussions that go beyond aid. For example, several countries are coming together to harness the “Data Revolution” to ensure that we collect the statistics needed to track progress and achieve the new Global Goals.

Right now, the world’s governments do not have more than 70 percent of the data they need to measure progress. Clearly, we need to aim for more with the new Global Goals.

Further, it will be crucial to agree on minimum per capita spending levels on essential services to deliver, by 2020, a basic package for all. In order to fund these efforts, governments should increase domestic revenues towards ambitious revenue-to-GDP targets and halve the gap to those targets by 2020 by implementing fair tax policies, curbing corruption and stemming illicit flows.

The list is long and time is running out, but as our youth activists would unwaveringly note, there is still ample opportunity for leaders in both North and South to rise to the occasion and throw their weight behind ending extreme poverty. Pesky questions aside, leaders really should take note of these young voices, because it is quite literally their future world that leaders are shaping this year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From Residents to Rangers: Local Communities Take Lead on Mangrove Conservation in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 17:24:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141176 Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KALPITIYA, Sri Lanka, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Weekends and public holidays are deadly for one of Sri Lanka’s most delicate ecosystems – that is when the island’s 8,815 hectares of mangroves come under threat.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture. We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.” -- Douglas Thisera, also known as Sri Lanka's Mangrove Master
With public officials, forest rangers and NGO workers on holiday, no one is around to enforce conservation laws designed to protect these endangered zones. Except the locals, that is.

Residents of the Kalpitiya Peninsula in the northwest Puttalam District are no strangers to the wanton destruction of the area’s natural bounty. Kalpitiya is home to the largest mangrove block in Sri Lanka, the Puttalam Lagoon, as well as smaller mangrove systems on the shores of the Chilaw Lagoon, 150 km north of the capital, Colombo.

For centuries these complex wetlands have protected fisher communities against storms and sea-surges, while the forests’ underwater root system has nurtured nurseries and feeding grounds for scores of aquatic species.

Perhaps more important, in a country still living with the ghosts of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, mangroves have been found to be a coastline’s best defense against tidal waves and tsunamis.

Many poor fisher families in western Sri Lanka also rely heavily on mangroves for sustenance, with generation after generation deriving protein sources from the rich waters or sustainably harvesting the forests’ many by-products.

But in Sri Lanka today, as elsewhere in the world, mangroves face a range of risks. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that the unique ecosystems, capable of storing up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests.

Over a quarter of the world’s mangrove cover has already been irrevocably destroyed, driven by aquaculture, agriculture, unplanned and unsustainable coastal development and over-use of resources.

On the west coast of Sri Lanka, despite government’s pledges to protect the country’s remaining forests, the covert clearing of mangroves continues – albeit at a slower rate than in the past.

But a small army of land defenders, newly formed and highly dedicated, is promising to turn this tide.

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When residents become rangers

They call him the ‘Mangrove Master’, but his real name is Douglas Thisera. A fisherman turned vigilante, he is the director for conservation at the Small Fisheries Foundation of Lanka (Sudeesa) and spends his days patrolling every nook of the Chilaw Lagoon for signs of illegal destruction.

Massive Boost for Mangroves

Last month, the Sudeesa programme received a massive boost from the U.S.-based NGO Seacology to expand its operations island-wide. The Sri Lankan government also signed on as a major partner for the five-year, 3.4-million-dollar mangrove protection scheme.

The project will use Sudeesa’s original initiative as a blueprint to pair conservation with livelihood prospects on a much larger scale.

The plan is to provide assistance to over 15,000 persons, half of them widows and the rest school dropouts, living close to Sri Lanka’s 48 lagoons where mangroves thrive.

There will be 1,500 community groups who will look after the mangroves and also plant 3,000 hectares’ worth of saplings.

In a further boost to conservationists, on May 11 the Sri Lankan government declared mangroves as protected areas, bringing them under the Forest Ordinance.

The move now makes commercial use of mangroves illegal, and the government has pledged to provide forest officials for patrols and other members of the armed forces for replanting programmes.

This is a huge step away from previous governments' policies and reflects a commitment from the newly-elected administration to conservation and sustainability - both priorities at the international level as the United Nations moves towards a pot-2015 development agenda.

“We can dream big now,” says the Mangrove Master, scanning the horizon.
He has been replanting and conserving mangroves since 1992, so he knows these forests – and its enemies – like the back of his hand.

“Suddenly we will see earth movers and other machinery clearing large tracts of mangroves – by the time pubic officials are alerted, the destruction is already done,” he tells IPS.

This pattern follows decades of state-sanctioned deforestation that began in the early 90s, when an aggressive government-backed prawn-farming scheme was taking root around the lagoon and private corporations as well as politically-linked business enterprises were eyeing and clearing the mangroves indiscriminately.

For years Thisera tried to draft the local community into conservation efforts, but they were up against a Goliath.

He recalls one instance, back in 1994, when a powerful politician cleared a 150-metre stretch of forest almost overnight. “We were helpless then, we did not have the organisational capacity to take on such figures.”

By 2012, prawn farming, salt panning, solid waste disposal and hotel construction for the country’s thriving tourist sector had conspired to cut Sri Lanka’s mangrove cover by 80 percent, according to some estimates.

Today, under the aegis of a major mangrove conservation programme in the region, Thisera not only has financial backing for his efforts – he has a network of residents just as dedicated to the task as he is.

The project is led by Sudeesa, whose chairman, Anuradha Wickramasinghe, believed that only “community-based” action could hope to save the disappearing forests.

But this was easier said than done.

Poverty stalks the population of Sri Lanka’s northwest coast, and the most recent government statistics indicate that the average income among fisher families is just 16 dollars a month, with 53 percent of the population here living below the national poverty line.

Unemployment is roughly 20 percent higher than the island-wide average of 4.1 percent, and most families spend every waking moment struggling to put food on the table.

So Sudeesa created a micro-credit scheme to incentivize conservation efforts, and tailored the programme towards women. Women are offered a range of loans at extremely low interest rates to start home-based sustainable ventures. In exchange, they care for young saplings, help replant stretches of mangrove forest and take it upon themselves to prevent illegal clearing for commercial purposes.

Together they have planted 170,000 saplings covering an area of 860 hectares in the district – and they are working to multiply this number.

Futures tied to the land

The entire scheme relies on community action.

Women are put in charge of designated locations, mostly close to their homes. When encroachment or illegal harvesting takes place, they use local networks and cell phones to get the word out.

Here, the Thisera plays a pivotal role, acting as an intermediary between local watchdogs and networks of public officials, which he can activate when the women raise a red flag.

Last year this rudimentary conservation machine managed to halt encroachment by a private company with a stake in prawn farming by forcing it to dismantle fencing around the mangroves and retreat to demarcations laid down in government maps of the area.

Thisera says powerful business interests present the biggest menace to locals. Although an epidemic in the late 1990s decimated most of the prawn farms, leaving large, empty man-made tanks in place of mangrove ecosystems, companies have been reluctant to retreat and many continue to pay taxes on former areas of operations.

“They want to keep a legal hold on the land for other purposes,” Thisera explains, such as tourism on the northern ridge of the Puttalam Lagoon that has seen a revival since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

Already two islands have been leased out to private companies, though no major construction operations have yet begun.

When they do, however, they will be forced to reckon with Thisera and his unofficial rangers.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture,” Thisera explains. “We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.”

Self-confidence and self-reliance

Cut off from the country’s commercial hubs and major markets, women in this district have long had to rely on their wits to survive.

Take Anne Priyanthi, a 52-year-old widow with two children who until three years ago had struggled to feed her family. She tried to lift herself out of poverty by applying for a bank loan – but was refused on the basis that she did not “meet the criteria”.

In 2012 Sudeesa granted her a loan of 10,000 rupees – about 74 dollars – which she used to start a small pig farm. Today, she earns a monthly income of 25,000 rupees, or 182 dollars.

It seems a pittance – but it means her kids can stay in school and in these impoverished parts that is a monumental success.

Another beneficiary of Sudeesa’s conservation-livelihood project is 58-year-old Primrose Fernando, who now works as a coordinator for the NGO. The widow has three daughters, one of whom has a minor disability.

With her loan she was able to set up a small grocery shop for the disabled daughter and also invest in an ornamental fish breeding business.

“Without this assistance I would have been left destitute,” Fernando tells IPS.

Since 1994 Sudeesa had given out loans to the tune of 54 million rupees (over 400,000 dollars) to 3,900 women in the Puttalam District. Officials say that the loans have a repayment rate of over 75 percent.

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now the loans scheme falls under a registered public organisation called Sudeesa Social Enterprises Corporation, of which 683 of the most active women are shareholders.

“It is the shareholders who run the orgainsation now, who decide on loans, repayments and follow-up action in case of defaulters,” explains Malan Appuhami, a Sudeesa accountant.

The operation is not your average micro-credit scheme – interest rates are less than three percent, and since the women are all part of the same community, they are more interested in helping each other succeed than hunting down defaulters.

For instance during the months of June to September, when rough seas limit a fisher family’s catch, the shareholders create more flexible repayment plans.

In a country where the female unemployment rate is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure of 4.2 percent, the conservation-livelihood scheme is a kind of oasis in an otherwise barren desert for women – particularly older women without a formal education, as many in the Puttalam District are – seeking paid work.

Suvineetha de Silva, a Sudeesa credit officer, tells IPS that there has been a visible shift in women’s outlooks and attitudes – no longer ragged and shy, they now ripple with the confidence of those who have taken matters into their own hands.

Some have even been able to send their kids to university, de Silva says, something that was “unheard of” a decade ago, when the simple act of completing primary school was considered a luxury for youth whose parents needed the extra labour to help feed the family.

Other women are spending more time at home, with the result that sustainable cottage industries like home bakeries, dress making ventures and even hairdressing operations are thriving.

Best of all is that Puttalam’s mangroves now have a fighting chance, with determined women keeping watch over them.

Globally, an estimated 100 million people live in the vicinity of mangrove forests. What would it mean for the future of biodiversity if all of them followed Sri Lanka’s example?

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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