Inter Press Service » Women & Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Apr 2015 07:41:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 There’s No Such Thing as Equality in India’s Labour Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 19:04:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139948 Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

It calls itself the ‘world’s largest democracy’ but the 380 million working-aged women in India might disagree with that assessment.

Recent research shows that only 125 million women of a working age are currently employed, with the number of women in the workforce declining steadily since 2004.

"It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we [must] work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential." -- Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi
Experts say these figures should serve as a wake-up call for Asia’s third largest economy, adding that unless this nation of 1.2 billion people begins to provide equal opportunities for women, it will miss out on vital development and poverty-reduction goals.

According to a report released earlier this month by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is amongst the lowest among emerging markets and peer countries.

India’s FLFP – the share of employed women or job seekers among the working-age female population — is 33 percent, almost half of the East Asian average of 63 percent and well below the global average of around 50 percent.

The IMF’s findings amplify what has been already been identified as a disconcerting trend in India lately – the absence of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

A debate is currently raging across the country about the skewed gender balance in Indian corporate boardrooms where women hold barely five percent of seats – lower than all the other countries that comprise the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

A progressive new law was passed in 2013 that requires all companies listed on the national stock exchange to have at least one female board member by August 2014. However, the deadline had to be extended to April 2015 as only a few companies came forward to appoint women to these top positions.

The lack of women workers in India is a “huge missed opportunity” for the country’s economic growth, lamented IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on a recent trip to this country of 1.2 billion people.

Gender diversity in the workplace isn’t just about political correctness; it is an economic imperative, economists say.

A study undertaken by the IMF in 2013 proves that India’s growth has been stunted by women’s exclusion from the workforce.

“Assuming the gender gap is halved by 2017 and cut to one-fourth of its 2008 value in 2027, India’s per capita income could be 10-13 percent higher than under the baseline scenario of unchanged gender inequality in 2020 and 2030, respectively,” the report stated.

Counting and accounting for women’s labour

Some say the primary explanation for the apparent ‘absence’ of working women is a dearth of national-level data on the informal sector. Since a majority of women perform mostly unpaid, domestic labour on a regular basis, their contribution to the economy does not ‘count’ when the country tallies up its records of the formal labour market.

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“A woman’s work in her own household is not counted as an economic activity, and does not get factored into the national income statistics,” explains Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi.

“This situation is even worse than the case of services by a paid domestic help, which is at least considered an economic activity and is counted in the country’s income.”

Rustagi tells IPS that this is unfortunate, as women’s domestic duties in India cover a range of responsibilities like cooking, caring for the elderly, and rearing children, all work that is crucial to the economy and all of Indian society.

In the villages, women additionally engage in the vital task of animal husbandry, which is also excluded from enumeration, elaborates Rustagi.

Cultural norms also scupper women’s entry into the formal workforce, say analysts.

“The entrenched Indian patriarchal culture idealises women in, and restrict them to, the roles of housewives and mothers. Notions of socio-ritual superiority of a group or family can be directly linked to higher restrictions on women including their physical mobility and work outside homes,” explains Bhim Reddy, associate editor of the Indian Journal of Human Development who has researched extensively on recruitment practices in labour markets.

Reddy adds that a higher school enrolment rate, especially for women between the ages of 14 and 21, has also contributed to an asymmetrical workforce.

“A large section of females in this age group that used to be part of the work force earlier is now in schools and colleges, and this is getting reflected in a drop in the female LFPR,” elaborates Reddy.

But research by Everstone Capital, an investment management company, shows that while the number of women enrolling in college has grown manifold, it has not translated into a proportionate increase of women graduates in the workforce.

At 22 percent, the rate of India’s female graduates entering the workforce is lower than the rate of illiterate women finding jobs.

Worse, participation of Indian women in the workforce plummeted from 33.7 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2012, according to United Nations statistics. In 2011-12, less than 20 percent of the total workers in non-agricultural sectors was women.

Surprisingly, female labour participation has been found to be particularly low even among urban, educated women — a demographic typically assumed to experience fewer social barriers.

According to government statistics, in 2009-10, the proportion of those attending to domestic duties (and therefore out of the formal labour force) was 57 percent among urban females with graduate degrees or higher, compared to just 31 percent among rural females with primary or middle school education.

Experts say the advent of mechanisation and incorporation of new technologies in agriculture and the construction industry have led to the ‘masculinisation’ (or preference for males for a certain job profile) of employment patterns.

Exploitation and harassment in the workplace have worsened the situation. India passed a new law against sexual harassment last year, under which organisations with more than 10 workers have to set up grievance committees to investigate all complaints.

However, according to a study by Jawaharlal Nehru University, less than 20 percent of employers in the capital, New Delhi, comply with the rules.

Household surveys show that a more welcoming environment would compel many stay-at-home women to take on regular work. At present, issues of transport, workplace safety and hostile attitudes result in many women opting out of full-time employment.

Apart from sensitisation campaigns, activists advocate greater investments in infrastructure, safe public transportation, better childcare facilities at work and tax breaks to lure Indian women into the workforce.

“It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we then work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential,” says Rustagi.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: A Major Push Forward for Gender and Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:23:00 +0000 Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139940 Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez
NEW YORK/NAIROBI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Experts from around the world gathered in New York recently to launch work on the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO), the first comprehensive, integrated and global assessment of gender issues in relation to the environment and sustainability.

Never before has there been an analysis at the scale of the GGEO or with the global visibility and audience. It will provide governments and other stakeholders with the evidence-based global and regional information, data, and tools they need for transformational, gender-responsive environmental policy-making – if they’re willing to do so.The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

The writing workshop happened in the context of the recent 59th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 20 years after 189 countries met in Beijing to adopt a global platform of action for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Beijing+20 offers a critical moment to assess how far we’ve come and put gender at the centre of global sustainability, environment and development agendas. Twenty years later, what have we accomplished?

In 2015, governments will be setting the development agenda for the next 15 years through the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as negotiating a new global climate agreement.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be making a bold contribution to these global efforts by putting gender at the heart of environment and development analysis and action in the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO). The GGEO will be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly in May 2016.

A recent flagship publication by UN Women, The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development (2014), reveals that 748 million people globally (10 per cent of the world’s population) are without access to improved water sources.

Women and girls are the primary water carriers for these families, fetching water for over 70 per cent of these households. In many rural areas, they may walk up to two hours; in urban areas, it is common to have to wait for over an hour at a shared standpipe.

This unpaid “women’s work” significantly limits their potential to generate income and their opportunities to attend school. Women and girls suffer high levels of mental stress where water rights are insecure and, physically, the years of carrying water from an early stage takes its toll, resulting in cumulative wear and tear to the neck, spine, back and knees.

The bodies of women, the Survey concludes, in effect become part of the water-delivery infrastructure, doing the work of the pipes. Not only in water, but also in all environmental sectors – land, energy, natural resources – women are burdened by time poverty and lack of access to natural and productive assets.

Their work and capabilities systematically unrecognised and undervalued. This is a long call away from the Beijing commitment to “the full implementation of the human rights of women and the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

On the one hand, our thinking about the inter-linkages between gender, sustainability, and development has progressed significantly since 1995. Innovative research and analysis have transformed our understanding so that gender is now seen as a major driver – and pre-requisite – for sustainability.

Gender approaches in U.N. climate negotiations are a good case in point. Thanks to persistent efforts on advocacy, activism, research, and strategic capacity building by many, it is more widely accepted that gender roles and norms influence climate change drivers such as energy use and consumption patterns, as well as policy positions and public perceptions of the problem.

These were acknowledged – albeit late – in negotiations, policies and strategies on the topic. One small indication is that references to “gender” in the draft climate change negotiating texts increased dramatically from zero in 2007 to more than 60 by 2010.

According to data by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) as of November 2014, 32 decisions under the climate change convention now include gender.

On the other hand, not much seems to have changed. In 1995, inequalities, foremost gender inequality, undermined economic prosperity and sustainable development. This is even more the case today.

Perpetuating gender inequality and disregarding the potential contribution of both men and women is short-sighted, has high opportunity cost and impacts negatively on all three the pillars of sustainable development – environmental, social and economic.

The course to achieving gender equality also remains plagued by a simplistic translation of gender as women and empowerment as ‘gender mainstreaming’ in projects and interventions that are not necessarily planned with an objective of longer-term, transformational equality.

Numerous studies point out the obvious links between social and political dimensions of gender inequality and the economic trade-offs, and that narrowing the gender gap benefits us all and on many fronts.

The World Bank, World Economic Forum and the OECD, for example, have all concluded that women who have access to education also have access to opportunities for decent employment and sustainable entrepreneurship – key components of an inclusive green economy. The education of girls is linked to its direct and noticeable positive impact on sustainability.

The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

And most global policies on environment and development remain dangerously uninformed by gendered analysis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Education as a Cornerstone for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 22:32:24 +0000 Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139871 Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, the Barack Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to improve girls’ education around the world. Dubbed “Let Girls Learn,” the programme builds on current progress made, such as ensuring girls are enrolled in primary school at the same rates as boys, and is looking to expand opportunities for girls to complete their education.

The Obama administration’s leadership on this issue is commendable and incredibly important for moving global momentum on girls’ education forward.Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls - and indeed entire communities - will be deprived of future leaders.

We know that keeping girls in school and providing them with a quality education that can prepare them for their future continues to pay dividends down the line, including better health outcomes and better financial stability for girls themselves, and also for their families and communities.

Research shows that girls with secondary school education are six times less likely to marry early compared to girls who have very little or no education. Additionally, each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the probability of infant mortality by as much as 10 per cent and each extra year of secondary schooling can increase a girl’s future earnings by 10 to 20 per cent.

But around the world, far too many girls face insurmountable barriers that often cause girls to drop out of school, ultimately preventing them from getting the quality education they deserve.

Recently, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted research to assess the main causes of school drop out for girls in two districts of the West Nile sub-region of Uganda where only six girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary school, a ratio far below the national average.

A predominantly rural and impoverished region, West Nile, Uganda’s recent past has been characterized by war and conflict.

As such, poverty plays a huge role in girls’ inability to continue school. Of the girls who dropped out of school nearly 50 per cent listed financial reasons as the main reason they dropped out of school. Pregnancy was the second most common reason girls gave for leaving school.

While these factors are indeed eye-opening, our research found, however, that gender norms and beliefs about the roles of women as compared to men, were among the most significant determinants of school dropout for girls in West Nile.

Traditionally in West Nile, girls were taught to be subservient to the men to whom they ‘belonged’, first to their fathers and then later in life to their husbands. Despite significant social change that has taken place over the past number of decades,  deeply-rooted gender norms and expectations are carried from one generation to the next and have a profound impact on girls’ and their families’ expectations and hopes for girls futures, and girls’ determination and ability to finish – or drop out of –school.

For example, while most parents surveyed said they value girls’ and boys’ schooling equally, they acknowledge burdens at home, like chores and housework, fall on the girls in the family, rather than the boys. Consequently, girls who reported their domestic chores had interfered with their schooling in the past were three times more likely to drop out.

The domestic sphere remains solely a woman’s domain in the West Nile, and in the face of high adult mortality due to poverty, war, and HIV, girls who lost a parent were even more likely to have to take on a high household chore burden. This set of burdens often includes caring for younger siblings, which likely contributes to girls in the study reporting only starting school on average at the age of 8.25 years, more than two years past the intended starting age of six.

For girls who become pregnant while in school, dropout is almost inevitable. Only 4 per cent of girls who reported they had ever been pregnant were still enrolled in school. Pregnancy is often followed by a forced marriage and the accompanying expectation that a girl’s responsibilities should now shift from her education to caring for her child.

These data highlight just how many barriers girls face in continuing their education, with so many of those barriers finding deep roots in cultural norms that simply don’t value girls the way they value boys. And while this study was conducted in the West Nile region of Uganda, gender norms that continue to hold girls back are certainly not rare around the world.

In order to succeed in letting girls learn, governments, schools, communities and families must dismantle barriers for girls where they exist. Local governments and communities must ensure girls get off to a good start with their education, by disseminating information about existing policies for the age at start of school, because we know that when girls are enrolled in school on time and progress through each grade on schedule, they’re more likely to continue their education.

The education and health sectors must also work with local governments to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools to improve knowledge of and access to reproductive health services to help prevent pregnancy, which currently marks the end of a girl’s education in Uganda.

Additionally, we know that eight of ten girls who dropped out of school in West Nile, Uganda are eager to return to school if given the opportunity, but for the girls who dropped out due to pregnancy this is a near impossibility.

Re-entry and retention policies for pregnant girls and mothers who gave birth as children must be strengthened so that these girls do not miss out on the opportunity to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty, which is all the more likely for an adolescent single mother without a secondary education.

Education is, simply put, a cornerstone for women’s empowerment and subsequently for local and national development.

Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls – and indeed entire communities – will be deprived of future leaders that could be instrumental in helping to combat poverty in the community, which could empower more girls for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Acting Tough to Earn Respect as Policewomen in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 19:49:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139867 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/feed/ 0 Opinion: Sharing the Vision of a Changed Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:05:59 +0000 Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139849 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

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

By Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

This year has many initiatives taking place in the realm of women’s leadership, but one platform and movement in particular is standing out, and people are noticing. We are the founders of IMPACT Leadership 21, leadership architects for inclusive, high growth economies.

As a global social enterprise, the organisation is committed to inclusive and sustainable leadership at the top level.  This commitment is the driving force behind our core mission:  ACCELERATE women’s leadership at the highest levels of influence in the 21st century.Someone always has to dream.

Following is a conversation about the goals and strategies of IMPACT Leadership 21.

Janet:  Constance and I have a wealth of experience in many sectors.  We have operated in corporate, governmental, non-profit, diplomatic, and entrepreneurial arenas.  We observed that there were gaps across all sectors hindering the pace of advancement.  We developed discussion forums and targeted training modules to address these gaps.

Constance:  We grew tired of the same dialogue and not seeing the needle move very much.  We grew impatient and decided to take action.

Janet:  IMPACT represents the core values and principles required for transformational leadership. I – Innovation, M – Multiculturalism, P – Passion, A – Attunement, C – Collaboration, and T – Tenacity.

Together with our partners, we:

  • Convene catalytic conversations and forums that revolutionise global leadership.
  • Provide tools, resources, opportunities and channels that equip leaders to succeed in a global, hyper-connected world.
  • Inspire emerging global leaders to be catalysts for change.
  • Engage men as powerful ambassadors for change and a gender balanced leadership at the top.

Constance:  We provide discussions forums and trainings to assist companies and individuals.  Through our framework, we help clients identify challenges, then structure actionable step to help them overcome those challenges. Our forums are designed to identify, build, and engage business/social ecosystems that are industry specific to accelerate leadership.  If you want to build strong leadership, we are your architects.

Starting in 2012, IMPACT Leadership 21 has introduced three core programmes:  the Leadership Acceleration Training Program/High IMPACT, the Emerging Global Leaders Program, and Conversations with Men.  The Emerging Global Leaders Program was taught at Columbia University (School of International Public Affairs and Teachers College) and as an academy at the United Nations.

Conversations with Men was a featured content segment at the 2014 California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, CA and the 2014 GOLD Symposium in Tokyo.

Janet:  I created these programmes to address a need seen worldwide.  Conversations with Men has a very special place.  Women’s initiatives make the mistake of not including men in the acceleration of women’s leadership.  The men hold the majority of the cards; you need dialogue to have people understand the importance of gender parity.

Constance:  If you examine any great movement in history, you’ll see that the success comes from the efforts of those immediately affected, partnering with those bystanders that are sympathetic to the cause.  I mentioned this in 2012.  We launched our first Conversations with Men in April 2013.  We held it at the United Nations in February 2014.  After that, others started developing like minded initiatives, such as He for She and Lean In Together.  Many dismissed us at first, but history leaves clues to success.  It’s hard to dispute the history. We’ve pioneered this level of forum and training for the 21st century.

A movement and platform cannot go far without support, and this couple has some remarkable people in their corner.

Janet:  We are very humbled to have such incredible pillars to our success, very high profile champions and supporters that have really rolled up their sleeves to help us.

Our foremost driving force since the beginning is Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury (Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and popularly known as the “Father of 1325”, the U.N. Security Council resolution which focused on women, peace and security).

Ambassador Chowdhury’s tireless, hands-on  commitment and advocacy on ensuring equal participation of women at all levels of leadership continues to inspire the work we do as we accelerate women’s global leadership at the top.  It is because of this relentless spirit of championing women’s equality as a man, that we honored Ambassador Chowdhury with the first IMPACT Leadership 21 Frederick Douglass Award in 2013.

Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo (Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat), Ambassador Edita Hrda (Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to U.N.) and Michaela Walsh (Founding President, Women’s World Banking) have also been in our corner from the beginning, and continue to be guide and support us. Leslie Grossman, Founder of Women’s Leadership Exchange, emphatically joined us immediately after our first event and now serves as vice chair of our Global Advisory Council.

Constance:  They are our “salmon swimming upstream”.  Unheard of for most other fish, but second nature to the salmon.  They are our mentors and guides as we challenge the status quo, as we challenge the ways it’s always been done, challenge the seemingly impossible.  We’ve caught the vision of a changed world, now we are helping others see it. Someone always has to dream.

You can meet the leadership architects of IMPACT on Mar. 25, 2015 at the United Nations, convening their pioneering programme, Power of Collaboration, now in its second year.  For more information please visit impactleadership21.com or email communications@impactleadership21.com 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Salvadoran Maquila Plants Use Gang Members to Break Unionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:01:05 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139836 Factory workers make sportswear for a U.S. brand at a maquila plant in the San Bartolo free trade zone in the city of Ilopango in eastern El Salvador. The factory employs 350 workers on each eight-hour shift, 80 percent of them women, who earn minimum wage. Credit: Edgar Romero/IPS

Factory workers make sportswear for a U.S. brand at a maquila plant in the San Bartolo free trade zone in the city of Ilopango in eastern El Salvador. The factory employs 350 workers on each eight-hour shift, 80 percent of them women, who earn minimum wage. Credit: Edgar Romero/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

Textile companies that make clothing for transnational brands in El Salvador are accused of forging alliances with gang members to make death threats against workers and break up their unions, according to employees who talked to IPS and to international organisations.

Workers at maquila or maquiladora plants – which import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export – speaking on condition of anonymity said that since 2012 the threats have escalated, as part of the generalised climate of violence in this Central American country.

“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker,” one worker at the LD El Salvador company in the San Marcos free trade zone, a complex of factories to the south of the Salvadoran capital, told IPS.

She has worked as a sewing machine operator since 2004 and belongs to the Sindicato de la Industria Textil Salvadoreña (SITS) textile industry union. Some 780 people work for LD El Salvador, a Korean company that produces garments for the firms Náutica and Walmart.

“They told me they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” she said.“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker. They said they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” -- A worker at the LD El Salvador company

She added that LD executives hired gang members to make sure the threats directly reached the workers who belong to SITS, on the factory premises.

The warnings have had a chilling effect, because only 60 of the 155 workers affiliated with the union are still members, she said. Many quit, scared of falling victim to the young gangs, organised crime groups known in Central America as “maras”, which are responsible for a large part of the murders every day in this impoverished country.

El Salvador, population 6.3 million, is one of the most violent countries in the world. In 2014 there were 3,912 murders – a rate of 63 homicides per 100,000 population, compared to a Latin American average of 29 and a global average of 6.2.

“They would call me and say my body would be found in a black bag if I didn’t leave the union….since these were the first calls that we were receiving, I was really nervous and worried,” another worker who is still in SITS told IPS.

The textile maquiladora plants operate in the country’s 17 free trade zones, where companies are given tax breaks and other incentives, and do not pay tariffs on imported inputs. The clients are international brands like Nike, Puma or Adidas.

In 2014, the industry employed over 74,000 people, the great majority of them women, who represent 12 percent of the 636,000 jobs in the private sector. Its exports amounted to 2.4 billion dollars, half of El Salvador’s total sales abroad, according to industry statistics.

Since the maquiladora boom began in the 1990s, the factories have been criticised for inhumane treatment and violations of the labour rights of workers.

“One of the most widely violated rights is the right to unionise,” the secretary of organisation of the Federación Sindical de El Salvador trade union federation, Reynaldo Ortiz, told IPS.

“And now they’re using death threats to try to break up the unions,” he said.

In January, two U.S. groups, the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State University and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), published “Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights”.

The report cited specific cases of intimidation of trade unionists by gang members.

“These threats pose particular concern and have an especially chilling effect on freedom of association, both because of the country’s long history of murders of union activists and because Salvadoran society generally is plagued by gang violence,” says the 46-page document.

According to the report, several incidents occurred in January 2013 to workers at F&D, a company from Taiwan, which is also in the San Marcos free trade zone.

On one occasion two F&D managers, accompanied by a gang member, approached a number of workers who were talking outside the factory and visibly identified to the gang member the employees who were union leaders.

One of the LD workers said the participation of the maras is so blatant that during a November 2013 meeting of trade unionists with gang members, held to explain the workers’ struggles and problems, some of the gang members showed up with company managers.

In January 2014 Juan Carlos Sánchez, one of the employees who took part in that meeting, was killed in murky circumstances, the LD worker said.

She added that although they filed reports with the attorney general’s office, the investigation went nowhere.

IPS was unable to obtain comments from representatives of F&D or LD with regard to these issues. Nor did anyone at the Labour Ministry respond to requests for interviews on the matter.

Another case of threats involved activists with the Sindicato de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras, Sastres, Costureras y Similares (Sitrasacosi) textile workers union, active in companies that include the Nemtex textile plant on the west side of San Salvador.

“Armed men would wait in cars outside the factory when people were going off shift; they never said anything, it was more like intimidation, psychological pressure,” said a member of the union.

She said that in February a leader of the union, who works in Nemtex, received death threats from gang members who visited his home. In late February he fled to the United States.

The Sitrasacosi activist said the management and business owners dislike the unions and are trying to avoid collective bargaining agreements.

She said the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Confecciones Gama, another textile workers union, had been negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the company, which would have been the first reached in the maquila textile industry.

But the company suddenly shut down in June 2011, leaving more than 270 workers without jobs.

“They preferred to close the factory rather than sign a collective bargaining agreement…in their view it would have set a bad precedent,” the Sitrasacosi member added.

She said that thanks to the efforts of the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, which lobbies for the labour rights of workers who make products for multinational brands around the world, in December 2012 the owners of Gama paid indemnification for the closure.

Other labour and human rights continue to be violated by maquila textile plants, Carmen Urquilla, with the Concertación por un Empleo Digno para las Mujeres women’s labour rights organisation, told IPS.

For example, there are companies that keep the social security payments they dock from the workers’ pay – a phenomenon that continues to occur, she said, although on a smaller scale than in years past.

Forced labour is also widespread in the maquilas, added Urquilla, where the women have to work 12 hours a day to meet the high production targets set for them.

They are not paid for the extra hours they work, but merely receive a 10-dollar bonus for meeting their target, she said. Minimum wage in the maquila textile plants is 210 dollars a month.

“It’s heavy work, a lot of women suffer disabilities for life, because of skeletal and muscle injuries in the shoulders or legs; some people can’t even dress themselves on their own,” Urquilla said.

A maquila worker who asked that the company she works for not be named told IPS that her target is 1,110 pairs of shirt sleeves in 10 hours.

“It’s really exhausting work,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:34:01 +0000 Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139827 With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

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

By Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman
PARIS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

We are lucky to live in a country that has long since abandoned the image of the damsel in distress. Even Disney princesses now save themselves and send unsuitable “saviours” packing. But despite the great strides being made in gender equality, we are still failing rural women, particularly women farmers.

We are failing them by using incomplete and inadequate data to describe their situation, and neglecting to empower them to improve it. As a consequence, we are all losing out on the wealth of knowledge this demographic can bring to boosting food supplies in a changing climate, which is a major concern for everyone on this planet.The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

Whilst it is true that women farmers have less access to training, land, and inputs than their male counterparts, we need to debunk a few myths that have long been cited as fact, that are a bad basis for policy decision-making.

New research, drawing on work done by IFPRI and others, presented in Paris this week by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security will start this process – here are four fast facts that can serve food for thought.

  1. Rural women have more access to land than we think

For decades the same data has done the rounds, claiming that women own as little as 2 per cent of land. While this may be the case in some regions, these statistics are outdated and are answering the wrong questions. For example, much of this data is derived from comparing land owned by male-headed households with that owned by female-headed households. Yet, even if the man holds the license for the land, the woman may well have access to and use part of this land.

Therefore a better question to ask, and a new set of data now being collected is, how much control does the woman have over how land is used and the resultant income? How much of the land does she have access to? What farming decisions is she making? There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that women play a significant role in agricultural production. This role needs to be recognised so that women receive better access to agricultural resources, inputs and services

  1. Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are women

We need to look beyond gender to determine the root causes of why individuals and communities are more vulnerable to climate change. We have found many other contributing factors, such as gender norms, social class, education, and wealth can leave people at risk.

Are more women falling into this trap because they don’t have control over important resources and can’t make advantageous choices when they farm? If so, how can we change that? We must tackle these bigger problems that hinder both men and women in different ways, and not simply blame unequal vulnerability to climate risks and shocks on gender.

  1. Rural women do not automatically make better stewards of natural resources

Yes, rural women are largely responsible for collecting water and firewood, as well as a great deal of farm work. But the idea that this immediately makes them better stewards of natural resources is false. In fact, the evidence is conflicting. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, women were less likely to adopt climate-smart technologies in eight of them.

Yet in East Africa, research has shown women were more likely than, or just as likely as men to adopt climate-smart practices. Why is this? Because women do not have a single, unified interest. Decisions to adopt practices that will preserve natural resources depend a lot on social class, and the incentives given, whether they are made by women or men. So we need more precise targeting based on gender and social class.

  1. Gender sensitive programming and policymaking is not just about helping women succeed

We all have a lot to gain from making food security, climate change innovation and gender-sensitive policies. The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

A key to successful innovation is understanding the user’s perspective. In Malawi, for example, rural women have been involved in designing a range of labour saving agri-processing tools. As they will be the primary users of such technologies, having their input is vital to ensure a viable end product.

In Nicaragua, women have been found to have completely different concerns from men when it comes to adapting to climate change, as they manage household food production, rather than growing cash crops like male farmers. Hearing these concerns and responding to them will result in more secure livelihoods, food availability and nutrition.

We hope that researchers will be encouraged to undertake the challenge of collecting better data about rural women and learning about their perspectives. By getting a clearer picture of their situation, we can equip them with what they need to farm successfully under climate change, not just for themselves, and their families, but to benefit us all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: ‘We Owe It to More Than Half of the Global Population to Do a Better Job’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 12:29:10 +0000 Josephine Ojiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139802 Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

By Josephine Ojiambo
LONDON, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Undoubtedly, we are at a crucial time in the advancement of gender equality.

As we move towards consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must ensure the rights of women and girls are firmly embedded in the post-2015 development framework.It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

Twenty years ago, leaders and global activists met in Beijing and created what was the most progressive roadmap to champion the rights of women – the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark declaration, we must also caution against complacency as countries renew efforts to remove barriers that block women’s full and equal participation in all sectors of society.

An issue of serious concern remains the under-representation of women in politics. Until women are adequately represented at the highest level of policy making and decision making, we cannot hope to achieve the development aspirations of half the population.

We must accelerate efforts to reach the internationally agreed targets of 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making roles.

The Commonwealth has made significant progress towards increasing women’s political participation. Out of 43 countries globally that have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent target, more than a third are Commonwealth countries.

We have seen the introduction of important measures to redress the lack of women in political leadership, such as quotas and national gender policies.

In India and Bangladesh, for example, constitutional amendments to reserve one-third of all local government seats for women have led to the election of over one million women.

These achievements are good but not good enough. Women continue to be marginalised, oppressed, and subjected to violence and cruelty – female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, trafficking, slavery and sexual violence.

A culture of impunity prevails when it comes to prosecuting and preventing such violations. Under these current conditions, is it any wonder that only 22 out of 193 countries have a woman as head of state or government?

I recall my own formative political experience in Kenya: my mother became the country’s first female cabinet minister in the early seventies, and remains a formidable politician even today. I witnessed the hardships she endured to rise through the ranks, and the adversity she faced when in office, as well as her successes and achievement.

I too had a similar experience when I joined the oldest political party in Kenya, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), as a volunteer and youth activist.

Over a period of 24 years, I rose through the ranks as a professional volunteer. This role granted me presence and agency; it ushered me forward to eventually be voted in as the first female secretary-general of the party.

It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

I learned many lessons during my experience in grassroots electoral politics – the sharing of good practices, the solidarity of sisterhood within the women’s movement, and the true support of key male champions.

Globally, however, women’s political participation continues to be thwarted by innumerable obstacles. Discrimination against women is rife.

Financial resources available to women to run political campaigns are scant or non-existent. Conflicts between work and family can be overwhelming.

We are all familiar with the tired saying, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’; it is exactly this type of regressive narrative that sets women back. Challenging gender-based stereotypes is still an ongoing, uphill battle.

Therefore, we must find ways to create inclusive and enabling environments where women are able to realise their full political, economic and social potential.

We must turn our attention to paving the way for future generations. Creating pathways that enable more young women to enter the ranks of political leadership is fundamental.

Education is the single most important tool to achieve this. Yet, women and girls continue to be denied the same opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Statistics show, overwhelmingly, that countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Nevertheless, patriarchal systems continue to downgrade the value women offer society as a whole.

Our Commonwealth Charter recognises that: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

To this end, we will work closely with member governments to fulfil international commitments in line with the stand-alone goal agreed at the 58th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Going forward, we seek to increase women’s participation in the political and corporate sectors through electoral and legislative reforms. We continue to push for the elimination of violence against women and girls in all Commonwealth countries.

Advancing women’s economic empowerment is another priority area. It is the social responsibility of governments to improve women’s enterprise and encourage business activity, thereby strengthening women’s economic power – one of the measures of overcoming poverty.

There is much work to be done. We must now deliver on promises to secure women’s equal participation in all echelons of society. We owe it to more than half of the global population to do a better job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women in the Philippines at the Forefront of the Health Food Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:25:47 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139784 In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

When Tinay Alterado’s team from ARUGAAN, an organisation of women healthcare advocates, visited Eastern Visayas, a region of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, they noticed that the relief and rescue sites were flooded with donated milk formula, which nursing mothers were feeding to their babies in vast quantities.

Milk formula was one of the hundreds of relief items that streamed into the affected region in the aftermath of the strongest recorded storm to ever hit land.

“No one knows if GMOs are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health." -- Angelina Galang, head of Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF)
“We intervened because we knew from what we saw that we had to teach women how to breastfeed and how important it is for them, their babies and their families,” Alterado told IPS.

ARUGAAN, which in Filipino means to nurture or take care of someone, is a home centre organised by mostly poor, urban working mothers who care for babies up to three-and-a-half months old and advocate for healthy lifestyles, especially exclusive breastfeeding.

“We informed the women that they can and must breastfeed, and it should be for [up to] six months or even longer,” Alterado said.

Her group’s emergency response in the typhoon-affected areas took more time than planned, as they had to teach women how to induce milk from their breasts through a process called ‘lactation massage’ and how to store the milk for their babies’ next meal.

Alterado said her colleagues have doubled their efforts to spread awareness on this crucial aspect of motherhood, which is not ingrained in the country’s culture. Few people connect the act of breastfeeding with its associated economic and environmental benefits, such as reducing trash or easing a family’s financial woes.

In a country where 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted, women’s role in fighting hunger and malnutrition cannot be underestimated.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “An overreliance on rice, low levels of breastfeeding and […] recurring natural hazards, connected to and amplified by […] poverty, means that children do not eat enough” in this archipelago nation of just over 100 million people.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the Philippines is devastated by an average of 20 typhoons every year that severely damage crops and farmlands, adding another layer to the thorny question of how to solve the country’s food issues.

Last year, the Philippines joined a list of some 63 developing countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number of hungry people ahead of the 2015 deadline. Still, the country has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, contributing to Asia-Pacific’s dubious distinction of being home to 553 million malnourished people as of 2014.

As government officials and international development organisations struggle to come to terms with these numbers against the backdrop of impending natural disasters, women across the Philippines are already leading the way on efforts to combat hunger and ease the burden of malnutrition.

Ancient wisdom to tackle modern lifestyles

Alterado’s crusade is no different from that of Angelina Galang who heads Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF), a coalition of organisations pushing for consumers’ right to know, choose, and have access to safe and healthy food.

For Galang, the struggle starts at home. When her grandchildren visit every weekend, she doesn’t serve them the usual soda, junk food or take-out pizza favored by so many young people. Instead, she gives them fruits and healthy, home-cooked snacks like boiled bananas.

She said the children didn’t like it at first but after many months, they have become used to weekend visits with their grandma that do not feature Coke and hot dogs. “Hopefully, they will learn and adopt that kind of lifestyle as they grow up,” she told IPS.

Galang said teaching the ‘fast food generation’ about the right kinds and quantities of food is a challenge, especially since many young people are taken in by corporations’ attractive marketing tactics.

But the problems do not end there. CRSF is also challenging the Philippine government to conduct better research on genetically modified crops and to label food products that are known to have genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which alter the genetic makeup of crops to enhance their appearance, nutrient content and growth.

“No one knows if GMO foods are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health,” Galang asserted.

“Consumers are the guinea pigs of GMOs,” she said, adding that eight GMO crops have been approved by the Philippine government for propagation and 63 for importation.

The movement against genetically modified crops recently coalesced around the government’s attempts to plant the genetically engineered ‘golden rice’, a strand fortified with beta-carotene that the body converts to Vitamin A.

The government claimed its experiment was designed to address the country’s massive Vitamin A deficiency, which affects 1.7 million children under the age of five and roughly 500,000 pregnant and nursing mothers, according to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Activists and concerned citizens say that GMOs will worsen hunger, kill diversification and possibly contaminate other crops. Women like Galang also contend that until long-term, comprehensive studies are done, “It is better to eat and buy local, unprocessed and organic foods.”

Educating the youth

Experts say the first step in the health food movement is to educate children on the importance of eating local and organic.

Camille Genuino, a member of the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation based in Bacolod City, is witnessing this first hand. Her four-year-old child, who attends a daycare centre, is learning how to plant herbs and make pasta and pizza from the fresh produce harvested from their little plot.

“Educating children and exposing them to the benefits of farming is good parenting,” said Genuino, whose non-governmental advocacy group produces the nutritious Mingo powder – an instant formula that turns into a rich porridge when mixed with water – which is distributed in disaster-stricken areas.

Her child’s daycare centre is based in Quezon City, a poor, urban area located close to a waste disposal facility where residents have installed farms on their roofs so they can grow their own food. The centre conducts regular feeding programmes for 80 to 100 children in the area.

It is a humble effort in the greater scheme of things, but similar initiatives across the Philippines suggest a growing movement, led largely by women, is at the forefront of sparking changes in the food and nutrition sector.

Monina Geaga, who heads Kasarian-Kalayaan, Inc. (SARILAYA), a group of grassroots women’s organisations, believes that independent efforts to ensure a family’s nutrition can go a long way.

“People should know how to plant vegetables – like tomatoes, eggplant, pepper and string beans – in pots, and recycle containers for planting,” she said. “This would at least ensure where your food comes from because you source your meals from your own garden.”

More than 200 farmer-members of SARILAYA – mostly across Luzon, one of the three major islands in the Philippines – practice organic agriculture, believing it to be the best guarantee of their families’ health in the era of processed foods, GMOs and synthetic products.

Geaga said Filipino women, including the ones staying at home and raising their children, are at the forefront of these consumer and environment advocacy efforts.

Citing studies by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute and the University of the Philippines, she pointed out that poor families spend 70 percent more on purchasing infant formulas than other needs in the household and that youth in the 16-20 age-group consume fast food products heavy in fat, cholesterol and sodium on a daily basis.

Such statistics are not just numbers on a page – they are the reason scores of women across the Philippines are doubling up as scientists, farmers and activists so that they and their families can be a little healthier, and perhaps live a little longer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sendai Conference Stresses Importance of Women’s Leadershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 19:59:01 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139690 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Jamshed Baruah/IPS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri/IPS

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Women play a critical role in reducing disaster risk and planning and decision-making during and after disasters strike, according to senior United Nations, government and civil society representatives.

In fact, efforts at reducing risks can never be fully effective or sustainable if the needs and voices of women are ignored, they agreed.WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

Even at risk of their own health and well-being, women are most heavily impacted but often overcome immense obstacles to lead response efforts and provide care and support to those hit hard by disasters, said participants in a high-level multi-stakeholder Partnership Dialogue during the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan, from Mar. 14 to 18.

Participants in the conference’s first of several intergovernmental high-level partnership dialogues, on ‘Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction’, included the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In an interview with IPS, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said the Sendai Conference offers “a new opportunity for the world to galvanise around a common disaster risk reduction agenda and commit to collective actions that put women at its centre”.

The fact that serious gaps remain in the area is not for lack of guidance and tools on relevant gender-based approaches and best practices. What is needed is requisite political will to make sure that women’s voices were enhanced and participation ensured. All such efforts must bolster women’s rights, included sexual and reproductive health rights, he said.

Osotimehin pleaded for key actions at all levels, and stressed that dedicated resources are lacking and as such, money must be devoted to disaster risk reduction and women must be empowered to play a real role in that area.

He pointed out that sustained and sustainable disaster risk reduction requires an accountability framework with indicators and targets to measure progress and ensure that national and local actors move towards implementation.

A physician and public health expert, before Osotimehin became UNFPA chief in January 2011 in the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS, which coordinates HIV and AIDS work in a country of about 180 million people.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

As several other speakers and heads of governments also emphasised in several other fora, Cousin said the WCDRR is the first of a crucial series of U.N.-backed conferences and meetings set for 2015 respectively on development financing, sustainable development and climate change, all aimed at ensuring a safer and more prosperous world for all.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed similar sentiments in a keynote address. He said that Japan had long understood the importance of enhancing the voice, visibility and participation of women.

For example, if a disaster struck during the middle of the day, most of the people at home would be women so their perspective is essential “absolutely essential for restoring devastated”.

“’No matter how much the ground shakes, we will remain calm in our hearts,’” said Prime Minister Abe, quoting the powerful words of women in one of the districts he had visited in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and pledging Japan’s ongoing strong commitment to ensuring all women played a greater role in disaster risk reduction.

Abe announced that boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support.

He said: “Today I announced Japan’s new cooperation initiative for disaster risk reduction. Under this initiative, over the next four years, Japan will train 40,000 officials and people in local regions around the world as leaders who will play key roles in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction.

“One of the major projects that will be undertaken through this initiative is the launch of the Training to Promote Leadership by Women in Disaster Risk Reduction. Furthermore, at the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo to be held this summer, one of the themes will be ‘Women and Disaster Risk Reduction’.”

Abe said, “We are launching concrete projects in nations around the world” and would build on existing efforts to promote women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction in such partner countries as Fiji, Solomon Islands, and other Pacific island nations.

“We have dispatched experts in the field of community disaster risk reduction to conduct training focusing on women over a three-year period … Now these women have become leaders and are carrying on their own activities to spread knowledge about disaster risk reduction to other women in their communities,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Gender Equality, the Last Big Poverty Challengehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 12:50:40 +0000 Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139675 Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter
NEW YORK, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

It is estimated that women account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty. They also make up 60 per cent of the world’s 572 million working poor.

Rapid global change has undoubtedly opened doors for women to participate in social, economic and political life but gender inequality still holds women back.If you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

Around the globe, women and girls continue to have subordinate status, fewer opportunities and lower income, less control over resources, and less power than men and boys.

Son preference continues to deny girls the education they have a right to. And the burden of care work that women face impinges and intrudes on their opportunities in terms of education and career.

Now a new report to be launched by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Mar. 16 in New York examines the links between SRHR and three core aspects of gender equality: social development, economic participation and participation in political and public life.

The report, Sexual and reproductive health and rights – the key to gender equality and women’s empowerment, provides specific recommendations to governments and to United Nations agencies to make sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality become a reality.

The reason for the report is to assess objectively what we have long suspected, namely that sexual and reproductive health and rights are critical to achieving equality.

Why? Because when women are able to maintain good health the trajectory of their lives can be transformed.

There are fewer maternal deaths and less reproductive illness; women and girls can realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights, they are free to participate in social, economic and political life.

Stark figures show that the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights is a cause and consequence of deeply entrenched ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman.

Gender norms leave women and girls at risk and unable to reach their full potential. In some extreme cases, they can kill.

Women die because they cannot access the abortion services they need. Women die of preventable causes in childbirth. Women die at the hands of their violent partners. We see examples of this in all corners of the world.

Globally, one in three women experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence during their lifetime. And, shockingly, women how have experienced intimate partner violence are 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a major public health concern in all corners of the world. It’s a barrier to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and a constraint on development, with high economic costs.

And then there’s work. The percentage of women working in formal wage employment has increased over the last half century but a striking number of women are still likely to work in the informal economy due to gender inequality.

Across cultures and in all economies, women continue to do the bulk of unpaid care work. Women make up the majority of workers in the informal economy – 83 per cent of domestic workers worldwide are women.

Work in the informal economy can be more insecure and precarious, and can have specific impacts on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. For example, lack of regulations can make women more vulnerable to lower wages, limited access to health care, maternity leave or child care and workplace discrimination, including sexual assault.

In virtually every country, men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.

Globally, female labour force participation decreases 10-15 per cent with each additional child for women aged 25-39.

Women also tend to have less access to formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms. While 55 per cent of men report have an account at a formal financial institution, the figure is just 47 per cent for women .

Here, too, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are key – true economic empowerment and stability comes from ensuring that regulatory frameworks across both the formal and informal economies take into consideration women’s reproductive lives.

In the political realm gender norms limit women’s opportunities to participate in decision making. As a result, women’s domestic roles are over-emphasised, they have less time to engage in activities outside of the home. This then restricts their influence to informal decision making, which tends to be hidden, or not respected.

Hardly surprising, then, only 1 in 5 parliamentarians is female.

One reason for women’s low participation in public and political life is because party politics and strategic resources are dominated by men.

In addition, women also have to overcome barriers that men don’t, such as poor networking, limits on whether they can travel.

Women voters are four times as likely as men to be targeted for intimidation in elections in fragile states. After all, would you vote if you faced threats on your way to the polling station?

What this report shows is that gender inequality prevents girls and women from reaping benefits and contributing to social, economic and political life.

So what’s the answer? Truth be told, no single approach will work. We have to look at solutions that work for women’s varied and complex lives.

But there is something that we can change – something that goes to the very heart of poverty eradication and development goals. We can uphold sexual and reproductive rights.

Because if you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

It’s the freedom from which all other freedoms flow.

Women and girls should have the right and ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives and sexuality, free from violence, coercion and discrimination.

That’s what equality is all about.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Empower Rural Women for Their Dignity and Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 12:57:26 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139657 A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Mar 14 2015 (IPS)

Rural women make major contributions to rural economies by producing and processing food, feeding and caring for families, generating income and contributing to the overall well-being of their households – but, in many countries, they face discrimination in access to agricultural assets, education, healthcare and employment, among others, preventing them from fully enjoying their basic rights.

Gender equality is now widely recognised as an essential component for sustainable development goals in the post-2015 agenda, with empowerment of rural women vital to enabling poor people to improve their livelihoods and overcome poverty.“To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities” – IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze

This year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on Mar. 8, marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), which called on governments, the international community and civil society from all over the world to empower women and girls by taking action in 12 critical areas: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment and the girl child.

Despite that call, much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation.

“Too often, rural women are doing the backbreaking work,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said on the occasion. “To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities.”

This year, the three Rome-based U.N. agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and IFAD – along with journalists and students from Rome’s LUISS, John Cabot and La Sapienza universities met to share testimonials of innovative interventions aimed at empowering rural women in four key areas: nutrition, community mobilisation, livestock and land rights.

A large body of research indicates that putting more income into the hands of women translates into improved child nutrition health and education in all developing regions of the world.

Explaining why women and men need to be involved together to move forward on nutrition, Britta Schumacher, a WFP Programme Policy Officer, described how the Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition (REACH) programme had been able to tackle malnutrition and health problems using an approach based on positive gender-oriented objectives.

The REACH programme – a joint initiative of FAO, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is based on the human right to nutrition security and seeks to transform the way governments and donors approach investment in nutrition to leverage existing investments most effectively and systematically identify priorities for additional investments needed to scale up.

Noting that “the long girls stay at school, the better is their health” because “lack of awareness represents a concrete obstacle to good practices,” Schumacher said that in Bangladesh activities had been carried out under the REACH programme to transfer knowledge within and between members of communities and local authorities, boost rural women’s access to services and strengthen their self-esteem. 

Stressing the need for community mobilisation, Andrea Sanchez Enciso, Gender and Participatory Communication Specialist with FAO, illustrated one of the achievements of FAO’s Dimitra project, a participatory information and communication project which contributes to improving the visibility of rural populations, women in particular.

In Niger, she said, “the Dimitra project encouraged the inclusion of a gender perspective in communication for development initiatives in rural areas … taking greater account of the specificities, needs and aspirations of men and women” and “creating participatory spaces for discussion between men and women, access to information and collective actions in their communities.”

Leading a two-year small livestock project in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, Antonio Riota, Lead Technical Specialist in IFAD’s Livestock, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, said that the project was developed and implemented in a context in which 90 percent of village chickens were managed by women and poultry was the only source of income for the entire community.

According to Riota, the project showed how small livestock can make a difference in rural women’s lives because one of its major results has been that “now women can walk all together” whereas previously they were accused of prostitution if they did so. “Some 75,000 women benefitted from the project and profitability increased by 91 percent,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mino Ramaroson, Africa Regional Coordinator at the International Land Coalition, described two African experiences of women’s networks – the National Federation of Rural Women in Madagascar and the Kilimanjaro Initiative – advocating for their rights to land and natural resources.

In Madagascar, the National Federation of Rural Women, which aims to promote rural women’s rights, improve members’ livelihoods and increase their resilience to external and internal shocks, has been joined by more than 450 rural women’s groups from the country’s six provinces.

The Kilimanjaro Initiative, initiated by rural women in 2012 and supported by the International Land Coalition, uses women’s rights to land and productive resources as an entry point for the mobilisation of rural women from across Africa to define the future they want, claim lives of dignity they deserve and identify and overcome the challenges that hold them back.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From the Mountains to the Sea, Timorese Women Fight for Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/from-the-mountains-to-the-sea-timorese-women-fight-for-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-mountains-to-the-sea-timorese-women-fight-for-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/from-the-mountains-to-the-sea-timorese-women-fight-for-more/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:57:02 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139539 Women in rural Timor-Leste work hard but still fall behind. Credit: © Alexia Skok.

Women in rural Timor-Leste work hard but still fall behind. Credit: © Alexia Skok.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

In Timor-Leste, the gap between rich and poor is most keenly felt by rural women and children. But while women are working hard to help rebuild Timor-Leste, their contributions are not always recognised, in a country where men’s narratives still heavily dominate.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, IPS looks at some of the challenges and achievements Timorese women have experienced since the small island country gained independence in 2002.“Wawata Topu are the living example that women's roles are not marginal at all." -- Enrique Alonso

From the mountains

Timor-Leste is an island nation, with its heart in its sacred mountains, known as the ‘foho’. The foho were home to Timor-Leste’s resistance fighters who defended their country during 24 years of violent Indonesian occupation.

Bella Galhos was one of those resistance fighters. After her brothers were murdered and her father tortured by the Indonesians, she infiltrated their army, gaining their trust until they sent her as a student ambassador to Canada. Once in Canada she defected, travelling through North America and raising awareness about the atrocities in her home country.

Since returning home in 1999, Galhos has become an advocate for Timor-Leste’s women and children, as well as the environment.

She is speaking Friday in the national capital Dili at a special event ahead of International Women’s Day on Mar. 8.

Galhos spoke with IPS about her new project, a green school in the mountain village of Maubisse. “I have very profound reasons why I came to Maubisse,” Galhos told IPS in a phone interview earlier this week. “First is because of my mother who passed away last year, she was a great teacher.”

“This place where I actually started this project, was known to be the first female school in the area. I didn’t want to lose that value that my Mum started (here) a long long time ago,” Galhos said. “Growing up in this country I’m also aware very much that the issue of environment is not considered an important issue. And I’m afraid that in the long run we are actually going to have a big problem in this country.”

For this reason, Galhos has started her environmental project in Maubisse, using a social-enterprise model.

“I want to give the kids a place where they can come and learn about growing fruits and vegetables,” she told IPS. She also hopes to teach them “life skills such as peace, love, kindness, not only towards our environment but also towards people.”

WAWATA TOPU – Mermaids of Timor-Leste [Trailer English Sub.] from David Palazón on Vimeo.

Galhos says that women in rural Timor-Leste face many challenges, including a lack of access to the information they need, a lack of health care services and domestic violence.

She said that poverty in the rural areas where most people still live a subsistence lifestyle can be seen at many levels.

“The children’s malnutrition, you can really look at them and see that these people do not have enough food or they do not have food with protein or vitamins. You can really see it in the way they look,” she said.

Galhos says that an office job in the capital Dili is not for everyone, as can already be seen with many rural people coming to the capital struggling to find work.

She hopes that her project will become self-sustaining as a social enterprise, by capitalising on the areas beauty and international eco-tourism potential.

However, she is disappointed that the government has not responded to her requests for financial support, after eight months of submitting her proposals to many different departments.

“It’s not easy at all. There are huge obstacles. As a woman in a country that’s male dominated, basically I do not have a place where I can turn to,” she said.

2.Wawata Topu are the women spear fishers of Timor-Leste. Credit: David Palazón.

Wawata Topu are the women spear fishers of Timor-Leste. Credit: David Palazón.

Timor-Leste’s government has set aside revenue from the country’s share of oil reserves in the Timor Sea, to help fund the country’s development.

However, there are concerns that the funds from the oil are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few and are not reaching the rural poor, or women.

Galhos has so far funded the green school project with her own salary and with support from her friends overseas. She is disappointed her requests for funding from the government have not been taken seriously.

“I don’t see many Timorese women trying to do what I’m doing, being successful in getting government support,” she said. “Though I still have a very pessimistic feeling towards the current government I am still working on getting them to see.”

This is real social and economic development for the benefit of all people, especially for people in the Maubisse area, she said.

To the sea

In another part of Timor-Leste women divers are challenging dominant narratives, that don’t value women’s work.

The women divers of Adara on Atauro island have reached a worldwide audience through the short film Wawata Topu. The film was last week awarded best foreign documentary at the American Online Film Awards in New York.

IPS spoke with Enrique Alonso, who co-directed and co-produced the film, along with David Palazón.

“If you review the available bibliography on the role of women in the Timor-Leste fisheries sector, you will find that women are missing,” Alonso told IPS. “Some reports developed in the last years shed some light, but for the most part (the women) were totally invisible.

“All along the country you might find that women in the fishing communities have a crucial role in households’ income management, livestock rearing and craft making, post harvest and fish drying, they participate in seasonal shore fishing (such as the sea worms harvest) and mostly in shellfish gathering and reef gleaning.

“There is one specific report of a study conducted in the east side of the main island where the researchers define women’s roles in the fisheries as ‘marginal’.”

“Wawata Topu are the living example that women’s roles are not ‘marginal’ at all,” Alonso said. “The film shows that their work is of primary importance not only in regards the provision of food but also in the market chain.”

Alonso says that the women of Adara have to walk for hours every Saturday to get to the market to sell their fish.

“They are the ones who transport and sell the fish, caught also by men, to the market every week. They are the brokers upon which the incomes of many families depend. The kids have to walk around one hour to get to the school through the rugged coastline. If it rains it is too risky for them to go,” he said.

“These are tough conditions. Within this context, these diver women are among the most vulnerable groups.”

The film documents how the women of Adara have adapted to the tough conditions and broken down gender barriers by becoming spear fishers themselves.

“As Maria the pioneer diver explains in the film, she started to fish because she was hungry. She challenged the social barriers and joined men in speargun fishing,” Alonso explained.

The film has helped women by giving them narrative with which to challenge unfair power structures.

“Through the film (women) raised their voice and got heard,” Alonso said.

“Power is also about discourse and narrative, and in challenging power the narrative games are crucial,” he said.

The film has been screened widely, including at International Women’s Day events around the world.

The most important event occurred at the National Day of Timorese Women, Alonso said.

“That day, the Secretary of State for Promotion of Equality granted Maria Cabeça and the Wawata Topu with the Women of the Year Award. In a way, the film has contributed to put Atauro Island and the Wawata Topu on the map.”

This article is also available in Portuguese

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Pagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:11:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139536 ‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.

Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India.

Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence.

Paul is herself a survivor of infanticide.

She told Women Deliver, “When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy.

“Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother – and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.”

Among others, Paul’s story on bonded labour in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad has had a tangible impact on the lives of those she interviewed.

In July she blogged about how one woman featured in the article ‘No Choice but to Work Without Pay‘, Sri Lakshmi, was released from bonded labour by her employer after a local citizen read the article on IPS and took action.

Lakshmi’s daughter Amlu, who once performed domestic labour while her parents went off to work, is now enrolled in a local elementary school.

Women’s issues aren’t ‘soft news’

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia.

Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work.

“For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom.

“One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a major obstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline.

“Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men.

Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

Online Vote

Readers have the opportunity to vote for their favourite journalists from the fifteen journalists selected by Women Deliver.

The three winners will receive scholarships to attend Women Deliver’s 2016 conference, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Voting is open until 20 March 2015.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In India, an Indoor Health Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139529 Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
NEW DELHI, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For years, Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged woman from the village of Chachadeth in India’s northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, has prepared her family’s meals on a wood-burning stove.

She is one of millions of Indian women who cannot afford cooking gas and so relies heavily on firewood as a source of free fuel.

Gathering wood is a cumbersome exercise, but Devi has no choice. “It takes us five to six hours to gather what we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it,” she tells IPS. “But we don’t mind, since we don’t have to pay for it.”

“It takes us five to six hours to gather [the firewood] we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it." -- Kehmli Devi, a housewife in the northern India state of Uttarakhand, who has cooked for years on a wood-burning stove
Buying a cylinder of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), even at subsidized rates, is not an option for her – her entire family makes a collective monthly income of 57 dollars, which works out to less than two dollars a day. They cannot afford to spend a cent of their precious earnings on cleaner fuel.

Further north, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a similar story unfolds in thousands of households every single day.

“If my husband had enough money, we would use LPG for cooking,” says Zeba Begam, who resides in Rakh, a village in southern Kashmir. But since the family lives well below the poverty line, their only option is to use to firewood.

At first, they struggled to live with the smoke caused by burning large quantities of wood in their small, cramped home. Now, Begam says, they are used to it – but this does not make them immune to the range of health problems linked to indoor air pollution.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and mud stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste), as well as coal.

Improper burning of such fuels in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous chemical substances including hazardous air pollutants (known as HAPs), fine particle pollution (more commonly called ash) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution, including from chronic respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, lung cancer and even strokes.

Other studies show that indoor air pollution – particularly in poorly ventilated dwellings – is linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and negatively impacts children, who are more susceptible to respiratory diseases than adults.

In general, women and children are at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Millions of Indians at risk

Indoor air pollution is recognised as a pressing issue around the world, particularly in Asia, but India seems to be carrying the lion’s share of the burden, with scores of Indian households relying on traditional fuels for cooking, lighting and heating.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows an estimated 75 million rural households (45 percent of total rural households) living without electricity, while 142 million rural households (85 percent of the total) depend entirely on biomass fuel, such as cow-dung and firewood, for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidisation by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, opting for more traditional, more harmful, substances.

Some estimates put Indian households’ use of traditional fuels at 135 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE), larger than Australia’s total energy consumption in 2013.

Cleaner energy to meet the MDGs

Experts say that there is an urgent need to drastically reduce these numbers, both to improve the lives of millions who will benefit from cleaner energy, and also to meet international poverty-reduction and sustainability targets.

For instance, indoor air pollution is linked in numerous ways to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s largest development initiative set to expire at the end of the year.

According to the WHO, tackling the issue of dirty household fuels will automatically feed into MDG4, which pledges to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by the end of the year; since children bear a disproportionate rate of the disease burden of indoor pollution, helping families switch to cleaner energies could result in longer life spans for their children.

Similarly, women and children spend countless hours collecting firewood, a task that consumes much of their day and a great deal of energy. Reducing this burden on women and children would bring India closer to achieving the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Less time spent on fuel collection also leaves more hours in the day for education or employment, both of which could contribute to MDG1, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

In 2005, the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) put the economic and health cost of collecting and using firewood at some six billion dollars in India alone, representing massive waste in a country nursing a stubborn poverty rate of 21.9 percent of a population of 1.2 billion people.

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Moving towards a sustainable future

As the United Nations moves towards a new era of sustainable development, scientists and policy-makers are pushing governments hard to tackle the issue of indoor air pollution in a bid to severely slash overall global carbon emissions.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, told IPS that the provision of clean energy, particularly for the poor, should be on the agenda at the upcoming climate talks in Paris, where world leaders are expected to agree on much-awaited binding carbon emissions targets for the coming decade.

Ramanathan argued that it was the responsibility of the rich – what he called the ‘top four billion’ or T4B – to help the ‘bottom three billion’ (B3B) climb the renewable energy ladder instead of the fossil fuel ladder.

“In order to avoid unsustainable climate changes in the coming decades, the decarbonisation of the T4B economy as well as the provision of modern energy access to B3B must begin now,” he said at last month’s Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS).

His words reflect countless international initiatives to cut emissions from dirty household fuels, including the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which estimates that a transition to clean cook-stoves could reduce emissions from wood fuels by up to 17 percent.

Quoting findings from a recent study conducted by experts at Yale University and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Radha Mutthiah, executive director of the Global Alliance, said last month that her organisation planned to “target areas where clean cooking technology can have the greatest impact, not only improving the effects on climate, but also the health of millions of people living in hotspots.”

These ‘hotspots’ have been defined as regions where firewood is being harvested on an unsustainable scale, with over 50 percent non-renewability. In total some 275 million people live in hotspots, of which 60 percent reside in South Asia.

Overall, India and China were found to have the world’s highest wood-fuel emissions, which experts say should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and legislators that the time for taking action is now

* This story has been updated. An earlier version carried a quote from a former senior official at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), who has since resigned.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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By Girls, For Girls – Nepal’s Teenagers Say No to Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/by-girls-for-girls-nepals-teenagers-say-no-to-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=by-girls-for-girls-nepals-teenagers-say-no-to-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/by-girls-for-girls-nepals-teenagers-say-no-to-child-marriage/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 18:58:49 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139501 Rashmi Hamal is a local heroine who helped to save her friend from an early marriage. She campaigns actively against child marriages in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Rashmi Hamal is a local heroine who helped to save her friend from an early marriage. She campaigns actively against child marriages in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
BAJURA, Nepal, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

If not for a group of her school friends coming to her rescue, Shradha Nepali would have become a bride at the tender age of 14.

Hailing from the remote village of Pinalekh in the Bajura District of Nepal’s Far-Western Region, 900 km from the capital, Kathmandu, the teenager was a likely candidate for child marriage.

“We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages." -- 16-year-old Rashmi Hamal, president of the all-girls Jyalpa Child Club in Far-West Nepal
Her family of six survive on an income of less than a dollar a day – subsisting largely off the produce grown on their tiny farm and scraping together a few extra coins working as underpaid daily labourers.

Mahesh Joshi, coordinator of the local non-governmental organisation PeaceWin, tells IPS that such abject poverty is one of the primary drivers of early marriage in Nepal, a choice taken by many adolescent girls with few prospects beyond a lifetime of hard work, and hunger.

Nepali herself tells IPS she was “unaware of the consequences” of her decision at the time.

Had her friends not intervened, she would have joined the already swollen ranks of Nepal’s child brides – according to a 2013 study by Plan Asia and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), 41 percent of Nepali women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the legal age of 18.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has classified Nepal as one of the world’s top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. But now, thanks to an all-girls-led initiative around the country, the tide may be about to turn.

Poverty turning kids into brides

South Asia is home to an estimated 42 percent of the world’s child brides, with Nepal ranked third – behind Bangladesh and India – according to a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A myriad of causes fuels child marriage in Nepal, home to an estimated 27.8 million people, of whom 24 percent live below the poverty line, says the World Bank.

Nepal’s National Women’s Commission believes economic, social and religious factors all play a role. In the country’s southern Tarai belt, for instance, continuation of the dowry system keeps the practice of child marriage alive. The younger the girl, the less her parents are expected to pay the groom, forcing many to part with their daughters at an ever-younger age.

Others simply choose to marry off their daughters so they have one less mouth to feed.

And while girls’ education is gaining more importance, it is still not considered a priority among rural, impoverished communities – UNICEF says the basic literacy rate among women aged 15-24 is 77.5 percent, a number that falls to 66 percent for secondary school enrolment.

Early marriages have been recognised, internationally and domestically in Nepal, as a violation of girls’ basic human rights, and a practice that has hugely negative repercussions across the board.

“Young girls who are underage when they marry are likely to suffer from a series of health and psychological problems,” explains UNFPA Nepal Deputy Representative Kristine Blokhus.

“There is a real risk of death during delivery, and even if a young girl survives, she may face life-long health problems,” the official tells IPS.

Child marriage severely limits a girl’s future prospects, often sealing her access to labour markets and condemning her to a lifetime of dependence on her husband or his family.

Experts say this is the beginning of a cycle of disempowerment, wherein a girl with few choices becomes trapped in a situation where limited options dwindle ever further.

By girls, for girls: A grassroots approach

When initiatives to fight against the practice gain ground, it is cause for celebration among activists, policy-makers, and families who opt for child marriage as a last resort in the face of extreme hardship.

Shradha Nepali nearly became a bride at the age of 14. She was saved by an intervention from a local all-girls club that fights against child marriages. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Shradha Nepali nearly became a bride at the age of 14. She was saved by an intervention from a local all-girls club that fights against child marriages. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The district of Bajura, where Shradha Nepali and her friends live, is leading the way on these efforts, with communities across the district competing to declare their respective villages ‘child marriage-free zones’: a bold statement against an age-old practice.

Bajura is located in the Far-Western Region of Nepal, home to some of the country’s most remote and developmentally challenged villages; incomes here are low and child marriages are correspondingly high.

Changing attitudes here is not easy, but that hasn’t stopped girls like 16-year-old Rashmi Hamal, president of the Jyalpa Child Club in the remote Badi Mallika Municipality, from trying.

“We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages,” Hamal tells IPS.

She is one of 10 girls who came together in 2014 with the help of PeaceWin and a youth-led agency called Restless Development, with support from UNICEF, to strategise on how best to stem the practice once and for all.

“These girls are local heroes; they have really proven themselves [in their] persistent educational campaigns, and by inspiring their parents to join their cause,” says Hira Karki, a local social mobiliser from PeaceWin.

It was this club that rescued Nepali from her marriage, shortly after she ran away from home. Although the girl’s mother doesn’t fault her for wanting to flee, she is visibly relieved to have her daughter back, and determined to make her stay.

“I cannot blame her [for running away] because she wanted to escape hardship at home. I [now] hope to support her in every way possible,” the 35-year-old mother tells IPS.

Today, Nepali is one of the club’s most active campaigners against child brides. Their success is tangible: over 84 schools in Bajura and the neighbouring districts of Kalikot, Accham and Mugu have launched similar initiatives in the last year.

“The best part of anti-child marriage activism here is that we have campaigners from our own community who live here and get the chance to educate their own adult members without antagonising them,” a local school principal, Jahar Sing Thapa, tells IPS.

Though small, each club is contributing to the country’s overall efforts to stem the practice. In the past five years, UNFPA says the rate of child marriage has declined by 20 percent.

Beyond activism: towards a policy of ‘zero prevalence’

While independent, local efforts are praiseworthy, they alone will not be adequate to tackle the problem at a national scale.

“We have learnt from our own experience that simply raising awareness against underage marriages is not enough,” UNICEF Nepal’s Deputy Representative Rownak Khan tells IPS in Kathmandu, adding that a multi-sector approach involving financial literacy, life-skills training and income-generation support for adolescent girls will all need to become part of the country’s arsenal against early marriages.

All these services are now core components of the government’s national level ‘Adolescent Development Program’, initiated in 1998.

Kiran Rupakhetee, chief of the government’s Child Protection Section, tells IPS that a variety of government ministries are now working together, resulting in the drafting of the government’s first national strategy document against child marriage.

Combined with some 20,000 child-run clubs across the country, this multi-pronged approach promises to bring real changes across the country, and move Nepal closer to the day when it can call child marriage a thing of the past.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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