Inter Press Service » Women & Economy News and Views from the Global South Fri, 12 Feb 2016 16:40:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Women’s empowerment in Bangladesh Fri, 12 Feb 2016 07:09:27 +0000 Naimul Haq 0 Family Planning in India is Still Deeply Sexist Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:11:24 +0000 Neeta Lal Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The tragic death of 12 women after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh went horribly wrong in 2014 made global headlines. The episode saw about 80 women “herded like cattle” into makeshift camps without being properly examined before the laparoscopic tubectomies that snuffed out their lives. In another incident in 2013, police in the eastern Indian state of Bihar arrested three men after they performed a botched sterilisation surgery without anaesthesia on 53 women over two hours in a field.

Deaths due to sterilisation are hardly new in India. According to records, over four million such operations were performed in 2013-14 resulting in a total of 1,434 deaths between 2003 and 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation according to health ministry data.

Health activists point out that the primary reason for this mess is an overt focus on female
sterilisation in the government’s family planning programme and a woeful lack of birth-control choices for women. Other forms of contraception are not available on an adequate basis because of the lack of health-care facilities. Injectable and Progestin-only pills are on offer only in private hospitals which severely inhibits their usage by poor women.

Worse, male sterilisation is still frowned upon socially. This places the onus of birth control on women with limited participation from men. According to latest research by the global partnership, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), female sterilisation accounts for 74.4 per cent of the modern contraceptive methods used in India.

As against this, male sterilisation is merely 2.3 per cent, while use of condoms is 11.4 per cent. The use of pills constitutes just 7.5 per cent of modern methods, whereas injectables and implants are almost absent. In the southern state of Karnataka, for instance, women account for 95 per cent of sterilisations conducted at family welfare centres.

Family planning experts attribute this sharp gender disparity to an entrenched patriarchal mindset and ingrained societal attitudes. This is the main reason, say activists, why despite vasectomy being a far less invasive and less complicated procedure as compared to tubectomy, more women are forced to undergo sterilisation. Doctors reckon that tubectomies are about 10 times more common in India.

“In male sterilisation, surgeons cut and seal the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. This is far less painful than female sterilisation that involves cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which requires the entire abdomen of a woman to be cut open,” explains Dr. Pratibha Mittal, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

The Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bengaluru chapter says it receives requests from 70 to 80 women for tubectomy every month. “Rarely, if ever, does a man enquire about vasectomy,” stated a doctor.

According to health activists, rural women are under enormous pressure from husbands and in-laws to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections. Hence, they’re left with no option but to opt for surgery. The women are also offered all kinds of petty inducements to undergo sterilisation surgery highlighting the risks women face in reproductive health in a country battling high rates of poverty. Everything from washing machines to blenders to cash incentives are used to lure women to opt for sterilisation.

Health workers say sterilisation targets set by the government also push women into surgery. It is due to regressive societal attitudes that even the government’s marketing and advertising campaigns for family planning programme emphasise promotion of contraceptive pills that are used by women, instead of condoms used by men to tackle the issue of population control. “The government’s overemphasis on female sterilisation is following the easy way out thereby avoiding the difficult task of educating a vast population about other options. Teaching poorly educated women in remote communities how to use pills or contraceptives is more expensive than mass sterilisation campaigns,” says Neha Kakkar, a volunteer for non-profit Family Planning Association of India that promotes sexual health and family planning in India.

What is worrisome, say experts, is that the number of men seeking sterilisation has plummeted in the last five years. Statistics released by Delhi government show that in 2009-10 men accounted for 20 per cent of all sterilisations. It reduced to 14 per cent in 2010-11, 13 per cent in 2011-12, 8 per cent in 2012-13, 7 per cent in 2013-14 and
5 per cent in 2014-15.

Sterilisation camps were started in 1970 under the family planning programme in India with the help of the UN Population Fund and the World Bank. However, they acquired infamy during the 22-month-old Emergency in the mid-1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended democratic rule and state-funded organisations unleashed a draconian campaign to sterilise poor men through coercive means. Hundreds of men — some as young as 16 or 17, some even unmarried — were herded into trucks and taken to operating theatres in makeshift camps. Those who refused had to face police atrocities.

Health activists say such coercion never works. “There needs to be a concerted campaign to educate men about sterilisation. Most men believe that they become sexually weak after getting sterilised which isn’t true. Wives, under pressure, then take on the onus of family planning on themselves forgetting the fact that their husbands are equally responsible for this,” explains Dr. Mittal.

Experts emphasise that a paradigm shift in attitudes is what’s needed to change sterilisation trends in the country. More so as India is all set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030 with numbers approaching 1.5 billion. Worse, 11 per cent more male children are born every year as compared to
females, as against a benchmark of 5 per cent shows UN data deepening an already skewed sex ratio.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent grievance redress system to allow people to report coercion and poor quality services at sterilisation centres. It also said the government should prioritise training for male government workers to provide men with information and counselling about contraceptive choices. But there is little evidence that this has been implemented.

Be that as it may, there’s succour to be derived from the fact India’s population growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54 per cent in 1991-2000 to 17.64 per cent in 2001-11. According to government data, India’s total fertility rate has also plunged from 2.6 in 2008 to 2.3 in 2013.

With constant media pressure, besides sterilisation, the government is also trying to increase the basket of contraceptives and making them available under the national family planning programme. India has recently introduced injectable contraceptive as part of national family planning programme.

“Providing greater choice and improved access to modern contraceptives should become an inextricable part of India’s health and gender-equality programme,” advises Kakkar. “Public sensitisation campaigns about the benefits of family planning, and replacing coercive surgeries with access to a range of modern reproductive health choices, should form the bedrock of our health strategy.”


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Women and Girls Imperative to Science & Technology Agenda Mon, 08 Feb 2016 12:14:12 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women]]> Lakshmi Puri

By Lakshmi Puri

Can you imagine an entire day without access to your mobile phone, laptop, or even to the internet? In our rapidly changing world, could you function without having technology at your fingertips?

Unfathomable for most of us, but across the world—especially for many in developing countries–using and accessing technology is not readily available, and certainly not a privileged choice. This is particularly true for women and girls.

In low- to middle-income countries, a woman is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, and the divide is similar for Internet access. The possibilities of scientific and technological progress is almost limitless, yet women and girls are sorely missing in these fields, particularly as a creators and decision-makers in spheres that are transforming our everyday world.

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly declared 11 February the International Day for Women in Science. Coinciding with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, or Agenda 2030, which are underpinned by science, technology and innovation (STI) and call for gender equality throughout, including under the standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, this Day has the potential to reverberate across the world.

Science and technology is not inherently elite, or about gadgets or toys. It is about our everyday. STI has the power to disrupt and shift trajectories as it increasingly influences all aspects of life today – from economic opportunity in STI sectors and the application of STI solutions within other productive sectors, including to help women grow business and social enterprise, to opportunity for greatly improving health outcomes (including sexual and reproductive health), energy, environment and natural resource management, and infrastructure development.

We see opportunity, particularly through information and communication technology, to enhance education, learning opportunities and skill development, for engagement with youth, for political participation and for women and girls to advocate for their interests, rights and social transformation.

Economic opportunities are abundant. The economic forecast in just a few STI sectors reveal staggering numbers. Estimates have shown that the value of climate change and clean technology sectors in the next decade amount to 6.4 trillion dollars, while the value of the digital economy in the G20 alone is 4.2 trillion dollars.

There is a huge opportunity gap in digitally skilled workers, amounting to 200 million workers, with estimates showing that up to 90% of formal sector jobs will require ICT skills. In energy and agriculture, 2.5 million engineers and technicians will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa alone to achieve improved access to clean water and sanitation.

Science and technology squarely underlie the enjoyment of human – and women’s – rights and are intrinsic to sustainable development, citizenship and personal empowerment. The SDG Gender Goal recognizes this reality by including a means of implementation indicator which directs the global community to “Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.” (5b).

The ability of women to access, benefit from, develop and influence these sectors will directly impact whether we achieve our goals of Planet 50:50 by 2030. If women are left out of these 21st century revolutions, we will not achieve substantive gender equality.

The Financing for Development framework makes additional linkages between gender equality, women’s empowerment and science and technology. In establishing the Technology Mechanism – which will be guided by a High Level Panel, half of which are women – we have the opportunity to operationalize and promote learning and investment around these critical intersections.

The Commission on the Status of Women (2011, 2014) and the 20-year Review of the Beijing Platform for Action (2015) addressed this complex issue of girls and women in science and technology, and resulted in a series of recommendations on a path forward and needed investments. New, as well as established good practices were identified, but we face the urgent need to scale these success stories from all stakeholders and to connect ad hoc good approaches to each other to build more comprehensive pathways and solutions.

The 10 year review of the World Summit on the Information Society also resulted in increased commitments around gender equality and a role for UN Women. An Action Plan that synthesized priority gender and ICT commitments across a multitude of normative frameworks, including WSIS, was also presented to catalyze engagement of stakeholders. The urgent need for accelerated implementation of all of these commitments and recommendations cannot be understated.

Evidence shows, including in the recent World Bank Report on Digital Dividends, gains are not automatic. The number of women in STEM falls continuously from secondary school to university, laboratories, teaching, policy making and decision-making. There are great divides in women’s access to, participation and leadership within STI sectors, despite being on the frontlines of energy use, climate change adaptation, economic production, and holders of extensive traditional knowledge. In the formal sector of STI, women globally make up under 10 percent of those in innovation hubs and those receiving funding by venture capitalists, and only 5 percent of membership in national academies in science and technology disciplines.

There are similar low figures around women in research and development, publication, leadership in government and the private sector, and so on. The disconnect between women’s practical and regular interface with STI and their formal ability to take advantage of these sectors and in having their knowledge, perspectives and leadership valued is stark indeed.

The reasons for this disconnect are many, ranging from access to technology, to education and investment gaps, to unsupportive work environments, to cultural beliefs and stereotypes. Globally, girls start to self-select out of STEM courses in early secondary school. Societal attitudes and bias hinder girls’ participation, with science and technology often considered male domains.

But change is coming, slowly but steadily. On the ground, UN Women is working to further women and girl’s engagement in the field, with many programmes focused on leveraging the power of ICTs. We are running digital literacy and ICT skill development initiatives in countries including Jordan, Guatemala and Afghanistan, and we are supporting mobile payment and information systems for farmers and women in small business in Papua New Guinea and East Africa.

UN Women has also been supporting the development of mobile apps and games to raise awareness of violence against women and to support survivors in Brazil and South Africa. We have partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to launch a new global technology award that recognizes outstanding contributions from women and men in leveraging the potential of information technology to promote gender equality. At the policy level, we are engaged globally and nationally to promote girls and women in STEM.

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we must not only celebrate women’s incredible achievements in science, technology and innovation, but also galvanize the global community to do more to ensure that women’s participation in the formal sector is not the exception but becomes the rule, while in the informal sector where women’s ingenuity is the rule, that they are given recognition and support.

The International Day for Women in Science serves as an annual reminder and hold us to account on how we are advancing women in science, technology and innovation more broadly and critically for achieving gender equality and ultimately, all other development goals.


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Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policy Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women’s Empowerment Will Accelerate Kenya’s Economic Prosperity Wed, 03 Feb 2016 15:09:58 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Amina Mohamed, CBS, EAV, EHG is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya.]]> Amb Amina Mohamed, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade flanked by Siddharth Chatterjee, the UNFPA Representative to Kenya and Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya in Moyale, Northern Kenya on 07 December 2015. Credit: @UNFPAKen

Amb Amina Mohamed, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade flanked by Siddharth Chatterjee, the UNFPA Representative to Kenya and Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya in Moyale, Northern Kenya on 07 December 2015. Credit: @UNFPAKen

By Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
Nairobi, Kenya, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

When President Barack Obama made his first visit to Kenya as US President in July 2015, one of the poignant messages he left was an exhortation for communities to shun cultures that degrade women and girls.

“Imagine if you have a team and don’t let half of the team play. That makes no sense,” he said, referring to the denial of opportunities for women to fully participate in development.

The president’s message could not have been more pertinent, coming as it did when the country, like most of Africa, is thinking how to reap a ‘demographic dividend’ – or boost in economic productivity – from its declining fertility rate and growing youthful population.

This occurs if the number of people in the workforce increases relative to the number of dependents.

Countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong also called the “Asian Tigers” lifted millions out of poverty by lowering the dependency ratio. Individuals and families were able to make savings which translated into investment and boosted economic growth. Combined with robust policies in education, health, employment and empowerment of women, they were able to capitalize on their demographic window during the period 1965 and 1990.

With over 70 percent of Kenyans aged below 30, we are at the cusp of a demographic dividend. For this dividend to become a reality, Kenya will have to surmount some formidable challenges, none more exigent than the empowerment of its women.

This youth bulge is “a window of opportunity”, which shuts in an average period of 29 years. We have to take advantage of it and understand that there’s nothing pre-ordained about a youth bulge producing a growth dividend.

The magnitude of the challenges Kenya faces was brought home through some sombre statistics in the just-released 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS). One emerging trend is the increasing role of women as stewards in Kenyan families, with one out of every three households in Kenya being headed by a woman.

This might not be of much concern were it not for another statistic from the KDHS: half of Kenyan women only have primary school education, meaning that their potential for participating in socio-economic processes is hampered, and their families are on the whole fated to the lower rungs of demographics.

In a new drive to change this narrative around the world, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon has established the first high-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which will take the lead in developing strategies and plans for closing economic gender gaps around the world.

Any strategies for enjoying the demographic dividend that do not prioritise the education and health of women will be futile. In Kenya, the train may not even leave the station if half the country’s women have only a rudimentary education and many do not have access to sexual and reproductive health services nor are empowered by understanding fully how family planning works.

The KDHS also confirmed that awareness of birth spacing and family planning rises with levels of education: fertility rates decrease from 6.5 among women with no education to 4.8 among women with some education and further to 3.0 among women with a secondary or higher education.

The survey showed that some counties in Kenya that had the lowest proportion of literate women also had the highest fertility rates, some as much as double the national rate which of 3.9.The pay-off from smaller families is in the all-round physical and cognitive development of children and, by extension, the workforce. In Kenya, this is a workforce that is mainly agrarian, and about 60 percent female.

Globally, it is estimated that if women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as US$28 trillion (equal to 26 percent) would be added to the global economy by 2025.

Where women are healthy and educated, not only their families, but entire nations flourish as we have seen with the “Asian Tigers”. Conversely, where women are not empowered the demographic dividend will not be realised.

Kenya must focus on eliminating gender inequalities, not only in the health sector, but in traditional social norms and attitudes that effectively under value women’s roles.

These are norms that keep girls out of classrooms and women away from the workplace, and are often expressed through violence. The 2014 survey indicated the extent of violence with about four in ten women aged between 15 and 49 stating that their husband or partner had been physically violent towards them.

We all need to listen to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s message at last September’s global meeting on gender equality in New York, where he stressed that “development cannot be rapid and resilient, unless it is also inclusive and equitable…given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must, not an option”.


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Rabbit Farming Now a Big Hit in Zimbabwe Tue, 02 Feb 2016 15:43:35 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo 0 Women’s Rights First — African Summit Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Despite the enormous challenges facing Africa now, the leaders of its 1.2 billion plus inhabitants have decided to spotlight the issue of Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in their 26th summit held in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January this year. Why?

In an interview to IPS, Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission (AUC), explains that time has come to act to alleviate the multitude of barriers to gender equality: “These include, among others, economic exclusion and financial systems that perpetuate the discrimination of women; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables either as lead mediators or part of negotiating teams of conflicting parties,” she argued.

The African Union believes that removing these barriers that impede women from fully enjoying their human rights can empower the continent, she added. Asked about women’s social, economic and political role in the continent, the Director of Women, Gender and Development says that Africa is at a turning point emerging as “one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering economic growth levels ranging from 2 per cent-11 per cent.”

“Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, agriculture, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation,” explained the Director.

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Women’s socio-economic disadvantages are reflected in pervasive violence, gender inequalities in earned income, property ownership, access to services including health and education as well as time use. To date, women in Africa, like women elsewhere, have not been included as full, equal and effective stakeholders in processes that determine and impact on their lives, Kaba Wheeler said.

“For example, women continue to have less access to education than men; they have less employment and advancement opportunities; their role and contribution to national and continental development processes are not always recognised nor fully rewarded; and they continue to be conspicuously absent from crucial decision-making positions,” she elaborated.

Kaba Wheeler also explained that the focus on these rights is an opportunity for the AU to take stock of how far it has come in addressing some of the impediments to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights.

This is also meant “to assess the extent of implementation of its gender and women’s rights instruments, consolidate the gains already made over the years and consider future priority areas of action to accelerate the effective and efficient implementation of commitments made on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ” she stated.

Kaba Wheeler recalls that the theme for the 26th African Union Summit in January 2016 derives from the declaration of 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights, with a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women,” as this year marks “important milestones” in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.

Among others, continentally, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1986 and the beginning of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020.

“Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.”

Regarding the main reasons why African women still face such huge hurdles, Kaba Wheeler cited a number of factors that create barriers between the present condition and gender equality in Africa: “Key amongst those is that African culture is largely patriarchal. Because of this, family control and decision-making powers belong to males. Since decision-making powers belong to males, the ability to make policy as well as the power to influence social norms also belongs to males.”

Consequently, she adds, “the male policy makers often maintain a firm grip on the traditional, gender-specific roles. This creates a sort of self-serving cycle, from which Africa is not yet free. Not unlike the women in many western states, the traditional role of women in Africa is that of the home-maker.”

As for women’s political participation in Africa, Kaba Wheeler explained to IPS that a huge progress has been made in the participation of women in politics since the transformation of the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.

In fact, she says, 15 African states rank in the top 37 amongst world classification for women’s participation in national parliaments with more than 30 per cent: Rwanda (63.8 per cent) , Seychelles (43.8 per cent), Senegal (42.7 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Namibia (41 per cent), Mozambique (39.6 per cent), Ethiopia (38.8 per cent), Angola (36.8 per cent ), Burundi (36.4 per cent ), Uganda (35 per cent) , Algeria (31 per cent) , Zimbabwe (31.5 per cent), Cameroon (31.3 per cent), Sudan (30.5 per cent ) and Tunisia (31.3 per cent).

But while Rwanda is the world leader in women’s parliamentary representation, it is lagging behind when it comes to women in executive positions. It is overtaken by Cape Verde, which has the highest number of women occupying ministerial positions in Africa. Out of 17 government ministers in Cape Verde, 9 are women, amounting to 52.9 per cent representation, Kaba Wheeler adds.

“It should also be noted that out of 54 African Heads of State and Government, three are women – the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and the Interim President of the Central Africa Republic, Catherine Samba Panza.”

In this regard, Kaba Wheeler explains that the AU envisions a 50 per cent representation of women in decision-making and member states are expected to use that as the yardstick. On that note, the AU adopted the gender parity principle at its first summit in 2001.

“To date, the AU is the only multilateral body that has maintained gender parity at its topmost decision-making level. In addition to the chairperson of the AUC, there are five women and five male commissioners and efforts are made to allow for the gender parity principle to percolate other AU organs and institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Court- where women are in the majority, ” according to Ms Wheeler.

The AU recognises that, with women being half of the African population, achievement of gender parity would create a ripple effect through many sectors of society as more women would be inspired to aim for leadership positions.

“Not only would having women in leadership positions lead to a better quality of life for women themselves, but also for their families in general and children in particular. There can be no true democracy in a country where women are underrepresented in decision making positions,” she emphasised.

But while acknowledging the great strides that have been achieved in women’s political participation, women still continue to experience significant discrimination related to their participation in public and political life.

In some AU member states, she adds, national legislation and constitutions adversely affect women’s participation in public and political life by limiting their participation through exclusionary or discriminatory clauses.

“In Africa, structural impediments to gender equality are embedded within the constitutional texts, containing provisions that specifically subjugate constitutional equality to religious principles or exclude family and customary law from constitutional non-discrimination.”

Although many of the same constitutions articulate a commitment to gender equality, the exclusion of personal or customary law from constitutional protection can severely undermine that commitment to equality, because many issues that commonly affect women are located within the legal spheres regulated by these customary and personal legal systems, Kaba Wheeler underlined.

Asked to further develop on the situation of African women whose role is key in the field of food production, agriculture and food security, Kaba Wheeler explains that their contribution does not match the benefits they derive from the sector in general and little investment is directed to benefit them.

“While African women produce more than 60 per cent of agriculture, constitutes over 50 per cent of the rural population and remain the main custodians of food security, there is very little investment in their lot to yield commensurate results, tap their resources and help them unleash their potential.”

Although they spend 80 per cent of their time either in agricultural production and auxiliary process including informal sector business, their contribution to food production, family care and welfare activities as well as in the informal sector is not captured in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unaccounted for in the Statistics of National Accounts, says Kaba Wheeler.

“In addition to women not owning land, they have no access to agricultural infrastructure including land rights, modern farming technology, farm inputs, credit, extension services and training. Majority of them have no access to physical infrastructure also because they are based in rural areas with no access to good roads, water, electricity among others.”

In that regard, she adds, even when they produce agricultural crops, they lack access to markets and loose most of their outputs between the farm and the market through wastage, or sell their produce to middle men at a throw away price due to the high transportation costs.

“Because of the majority of women do not own land, they produce the bulk of the agricultural produce as tenants on the land they still have no land rights on the land and also no inheritance rights.”

Access to land for women remains one of the critical impediments to women’s economic, social and political empowerment in Africa.

According to the Seventh Report of the AUC Chairperson on the Implementation of the AU-SDGEA (Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa), African women own roughly 1 per cent of the land, despite farming and producing most of the food from the land.

Dual application of laws-customary and civil/common laws, conflict of various laws, as well as inadequate harmonisation of family laws- in relationship to marriages and inheritance, land rights, and property laws is a major issue across Africa, Kaba Wheeler explains.

On the other hand, the lack of equal opportunity in education, particularly higher education is responsible for the low levels of women in the job market, including in the formal agricultural sector… Most of the women in the job market occupy low cadre job which earn little income compared to their male counterparts, says Ms Wheeler.

As a result, women have no disposable income and are not able to accumulate any savings and generate investible income. Majority of them are therefore, predominantly in the agricultural sector where they are predominantly involved in producing food for the family and the meagre income they generate from selling surplus food does not lift them from poverty. Women constitute the majority of people in our continent who live below US $1 a day.

Regarding women’s health, Kaba Wheeler explains that in Africa, gender related challenges manifest themselves in various ways including with unacceptably high maternal, new born and child morbidity and mortality: “Maternal health status is indeed a key indicator not only of the status of women but also of the health status (and well being) of society as a whole. The 2012 Status Report on Maternal New born and Child Health of the AU Commission noted that globally, more than half a million women die each year due to pregnancy and childbirth related causes. ”

Some specific data: 99 per cent of these deaths were identified to occur in developing countries, of which 50 per cent occur in Africa (specifically outside the North African region). For every death, at least another 20 women suffer illnesses or injuries related to childbirth or pregnancy.

“The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in Africa (excluding North Africa) is 1 in 22 women, compared with about 1 in 8,000 women in the developed world. Furthermore evidence abounds that 80 per cent of those deaths could be prevented by simple, low-cost and quality interventions.”


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2015 – A Giant Leap for Womankind (Part 2) Mon, 04 Jan 2016 10:34:41 +0000 Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri

Against the backdrop of escalating extremism and conflict globally, 2015 also marked the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security (WPS ) with a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their essential role in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peace building. The landmark UNSC resolution 2242 (October 2015) calls for effective and accelerated implementation of the WPS Agenda by all actors.

Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

It resolves to systematically integrate resolution 1325 and its implementation in its own work, to dedicate periodic Council consultations on country situations to WPS implementation review to ensure Security Council missions take into account gender considerations and women’s rights.

It also reinforces the UN’s WPS Architecture and emphasizes UNWOMEN’s coordination and accountability building role. In the light of violent terrorism’s targeting and impact on women and girls human rights, WPS will be a cross-cutting subject in all thematic areas of work of the Council including on countering terrorism.

The Climate Agreement adopted at the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris 2015 was a breakthrough. It specifically commits all Parties when taking climate action to respect, promote and consider their obligations on human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment and to ensure that their adaptation and capacity building policies and actions are gender responsive.

This, and the fact that there are 50 COP decisions on gender responsive climate action to implement, signals commitment that all aspects of climate action including mitigation, finance and technology development and transfer, data and monitoring and the implementation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) will be gender responsive.

UNWOMEN organized a number of Global Thematic Beijing plus 20 and 2030 Agenda events and carried out a Step it up for Planet 50/50 by 2030 Advocacy Campaign. The climactic event was on 27 September in New York. Alongside the Agenda 2030 Summit, UN Women convened with the Government of China—the first ever—Global Leaders’ Commitment Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

It was co-chaired by President Xi Jinping of China and the UN Secretary-General, and later by UNWOMEN Executive Director with other heads of state. 140 countries participated and nearly 70 Heads of State and Government vowed to “step it up” by taking concrete actions to implement the Beijing Platform and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for women and girls. Since then, other heads of state and governments have made commitments, which are now reflected on the UNWOMEN website and in a Book of Commitments and being tracked and followed up.

UN Women convened a Forum of private and Philanthropy leaders to galvanize support for implementation of Beijing and SDGs especially SDG5 and raise resources. Three major Civil Society meetings were convened in 2015 – Intergenerational Dialogue, Thought Leaders Meeting and the Global Dialogue to strategize on translating the enormous normative and advocacy gains made into impact on the ground and on dealing with challenges they face. Both civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector are critical actors and partners in the journey towards achieving the SDGs.

Beyond these milestone events, three other intergovernmental fora evoked highest level political commitment to gender equality with consistent advocacy and substantive support by UNWOMEN. The G7 Summit in Elmau under the Presidency of Germany and Chancellor Merkel committed to focus on expanding and supporting economic empowerment opportunities for women in developing countries, the G20 under the presidency of President Erdogan of Turkey launched the Women 20 Engagement Group, held a W20 Summit and the G20 Antalya Summit adopted a comprehensive action plan for women’s economic empowerment participation and leadership.

At the initiative of President Coleiro Preca of Malta, the first ever Women’s Forum was launched at the Commonwealth Summit to foster cooperation in implementing gender equality commitments. 2015 was a pivotal year for global resolve to act for the unqualified normative success of the Gender Equality Project, with member states, civil society, and private sector making profound commitments at the highest level.

Looking ahead, it is imperative that we “localize” the SDGs, and other normative commitments. Localization demands that all development strategies, policies and programs, constitutions and laws of all countries be aligned with the gender equality commitments in the SDGs and they be made central to all aspects of decision-making, and implementation. UNWOMEN’s Flagship Programme Initiatives seek to support this localization.

Member states will need to remain faithful to the prioritization of gender equality in 2030 Agenda and follow an ‘all of government’ and ” all of society ” approach, including a strong role for gender equality mechanisms to help drive evidence-based implementation and gender responsive monitoring of the SDGs and transparent consultative mechanisms, which include the women’s movement and civil society. Also gender data requirements will require significant investments and capacity-building of statistical systems. Transformative Financing for gender equality must be deployed.

It is unfortunate that patriarchy is too deep rooted and pervasive to be immediately vanquished by these normative resolves. Instances of horrific inhuman treatment, violence and denial of basic rights of women and girls – the mob lynching of Farkhunda and stoning to death of Rokhsahana, the kidnapping and enslavement of Chibok girls, the rapes and sexual assault of young women in schools, campuses, in public places, at work and behind domestic walls the brutal targeting and coerced coopting of women and girls in the refugee camps and conflict zones for sexual exploitation and violent extremism by terrorists, continue to sear our conscience.

All the more reason that we cannot fail to make this normative leap also a giant leap in changing the reality for 3.5 billion women and girls of the world. The remarkable normative unity of purpose and self-belief that a gender equal world is mission possible must now be translated into a giant leap of action in every country, city and village, in every community and household and within each of our minds and hearts.

There is now an unparalleled opportunity to finish what has been languishing for centuries – to end discrimination and violence against women and to acknowledge women’s equal right to dignity and humanity.


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2015 – A Giant Leap for Womankind (Part 1) Fri, 01 Jan 2016 12:52:43 +0000 Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri

2015, the final year of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), heralds the beginning of the most critical fifteen years for the realization of the new Sustainable Development Agenda that the international community launched along with renewed Climate Change and Financing for Development (FfD) compacts.

Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

It also marks a historic conjunction in the realization of the Gender Equality Project – perhaps the most important for humanity in the 21 century. The UN at 70 signaled that it is integrally and unequivocally committed to realizing it.

Great strides were made in the prioritization of women’s human rights through the encompassing lens of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all the UN’s defining normative endeavors in 2015. Women’s economic, social and political rights, their security and integrity, and their voice, participation and leadership were placed at the core of its ambition to ‘Transform the world” and “leave no one behind”.

Realizing gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only regarded as a moral imperative but also as “crucial” to achieving the first ever set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other related intergovernmental compacts including those on peace, security, and humanitarian action.

The 20 Year Review of Beijing Platform for Action on Women

The world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing with national, regional and global reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). UN Women mobilized Member States, UN System entities, private sector, civil society, youth and media through high impact knowledge generation, norm setting, advocacy campaigns, programmes on the ground, coordination and strategic partnerships to join this introspection and call for action.

The 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) undertook a global review of progress made in implementing BPA and based its report card on a record 168 national reports and regional reviews. The verdict – there has been progress, but it has been uneven and unacceptably slow. Change has not been deep and irreversible and a gender financing gap persists.

Despite significant advances – in laws to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls, in educational enrollment, labour force participation, women’s access to contraception, in declining rates of harmful practices, and gains in women’s representation in national parliaments – twenty years on, many of the same structural barriers remain in force globally. These barriers needed to be comprehensively addressed in Agenda 2030.

Violence against women is a global epidemic taking different forms. The majority of the world’s poor are women. Gaps persist in education, labour force participation, wages, income, social protection, unpaid care work and domestic work. Inequality in corporate, parliamentary and government participation and leadership is big. No country has achieved substantive gender equality.

The review also concluded that at current slow pace it will take another century to achieve gender equality. It underlined the need to fast forward change or ” hurry history ” as feminists would say, to overturn the patriarchal systems and structures that have undervalued women and girls for centuries, stripped them of equal rights, and denied them and humankind the opportunities to realize their full potential.

The Political Declaration adopted by Member States at the 59th session of CSW reaffirms their political will to tackle these challenges and remaining implementation gaps and structural barriers. They vowed full, accelerated and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform and to strengthen laws and policies and their implementation, to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes; to significantly increase investment to close the gender resource gap including through prioritization in official development assistance (ODA) and in domestic resource mobilization; to strengthen data, monitoring and accountability on implementation; and to strengthen national gender mechanisms.

The valuable role of civil society and women’s organizations was acknowledged and commitment made to support them including by providing a safe and enabling environment. These commitments are carried forward and reiterated in the 2030 Agenda and FfD outcomes.

Transformative Financing of gender equality Commitments

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, adopted this year at the World Conference on Financing for Development pledges to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment and to mainstream it including through targeted actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of all financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It commits to sound policies, enforceable legislation and “transformative actions” at all levels.

UN Women’s “Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” involving significantly increased investment in gender equality from all sources and at all levels, and prioritized and targeted allocation as well as mainstreaming” garnered wide support. The urgency of these unprecedented resourcing commitments have now been framed against the 2030 deadline.

Agenda 2030 – gender equality at the Center

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with gender equality at its center represents a significant and hard-earned victory for advocates of gender equality including UNWOMEN. We welcome the recognition that “sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities”.

The universal framework’s trifold and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development – the economic, environmental and social – and its strong references to human rights, ending discrimination, violence and inequality is important for all women and girls, individuals and countries – developed and developing.

The giant leap is that the 2030 Agenda positions the Beijing Platform for Action as a foundational framework for sustainable development -“a normative motherboard” with all gender goals and targets transformed into sustainable development ones! There is an overarching commitment to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap, to strengthen support for gender equality institutions at all levels, to systematically mainstream gender perspectives into the implementation of the Agenda, and determination to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence including through engagement of men and boys.

A strong stand-alone SDG 5 to achieve –not just promote –gender equality and empower all women and girls has been secured. Gender equality is also integrated across 11 other SDGs including on poverty, hunger, health, education, water and sanitation, employment, just and peaceful societies, sustainable cities, and economic growth. Data and follow up and review are to be gender sensitive.

SDG 5 itself has six transformative targets – on ending all forms of discrimination, on all forms of violence against women and harmful practices like child marriage , female genital mutilation (FGM), on equal participation and leadership in economic, political and public life, on valuing and reducing women’s unpaid care work and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection and shared responsibility within the household, and on universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Economic empowerment through access, ownership and control over resources, legal reform and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are critical means of implementation.

As a desperate migration crisis rocked the world, the 2015 Global Forum on Migration and Development in Istanbul also focused on women’s concerns and role. It affirmed that the Addis Accord and SDGs enable the mainstreaming of migration into development–that SDG 5 fully apply to women migrants–constituting over 50 percent of all migrants–and that both source and destination countries should act to promote those rights at all ends of the migration spectrum.

(To be continued)

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Women Inmates Sow Hope in Prisons in El Salvador Tue, 29 Dec 2015 18:58:02 +0000 Edgardo Ayala Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
IZALCO, El Salvador, Dec 29 2015 (IPS)

Doris Zabala squats down in the field to pull up radishes. She is working on a prison farm in El Salvador, where more and more penitentiaries are incorporating agricultural work and other activities to keep prisoners busy.

“The harvest has been good – nice, big red radishes,” Zabala told IPS. She is one of 210 inmates at the Centro Penitenciario para Mujeres Granja Izalco – a prison farm for women in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

This facility is only for minimum-security women prisoners who already have weekend leave to visit their families.

Of the 210 prisoners, 80 work in the fields, while the rest are active in other areas, such as cooking in the prison kitchen or taking care of the inmates’ children.

On the 26 hectares of land used by the prison farm, the women use agroecological methods to grow radishes, sesame, tomatoes, corn, papaya and other fruit and vegetables. A small chicken farm has also begun to operate, and a tilapia fish farm is on the cards.

“At my house there is land for growing things, so when I’m free I plan to continue gardening because I like it,” said 32-year-old Cecilia Méndez, who has spent six years in prison. She told IPS she is set to be released in eight months.

The farm was inaugurated in January 2011 as part of the government’s efforts to offer occupational alternatives in the country’s overpopulated prisons, to gradually ease the problems of idle prisoners, overcrowding, violence and crime that have reigned supreme in the penitentiaries for decades.

This Central American country’s 21 prisons were built for a combined total of 8,100 prisoners, but currently hold 32,300 – four times the capacity – according to official figures.

There is an “enormous humanitarian crisis in the penitentiary system” says the report “The Salvadoran Prison System and its Facilities”, published in November this year by the University Institute for Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the catholic José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), under the auspices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The Izalco prison farm is part of the government programme Yo Cambio (I Change), which includes a number of measures aimed at boosting the reintegration of prisoners and reducing recidivism.

The programme offers skills training, activities and work to keep inmates busy and improve their reinsertion into society once they are released. Projects also include rebuilding, enlarging and refurbishing existing prisons and the construction of new facilities, to ease the serious problem of overcrowding.

“Everyone thinks we don’t do anything, that we sit around thinking abut things that we shouldn’t, but we actually keep busy,” said Méndez, walking between rows of chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

The use of environmentally-friendly farming techniques, such as organic fertiliser, is a key part of the process.

“The idea is to teach the inmates new practices,” Óscar Menéndez, the farm administrator, told IPS.

“Anyone who likes to work keeps busy here,” María Cristina Vásquez, 53, who is in charge of the papaya crop and the small chicken coop with 100 chicks that arrived recently, which she cares for with dedication.

The farm’s output is for internal prison consumption and the surplus is sent to other penitentiaries.

On Dec. 22, the government signed a 4.2 million dollar contract with a construction company to refurbish the facilities in Izalco, to improve conditions.

A similar prison farm is located outside the city of Santa Ana in the department of the same name in western El Salvador.

The programme is not limited to farms but also includes other employment activities, in other prisons, such as carpentry and shoe production and repair.

In the Centro Penal Apanteos prison, 72 km west of San Salvador, also in the department of Santa Ana, the inmates set up a novel laboratory where they produce 60,000 tilapia fish in the larval stage per month.

They also created a factory that produces bleach and disinfectant, based on the expertise passed along by a former prisoner.

“He knew how to do this, and our motto here is that whoever knows something teaches it to others who don’t know,” said Rolando Artiaga, 24, who is in charge of running the small factory. They produce 200 gallons of disinfectant and 150 gallons of bleach a month, which are sold inside the prison itself.

The programme also includes activities like sports, education, healthcare, religion, art and culture.

But not all the inmates have access to these benefits.

Of the 32,300 prisoners in the country, only one-third benefit from the project, in 12 prisons around the country, Orlando Elías Molina, assistant director of the government’s prison administration agency, the DGCP, told IPS.

In the biggest prison, La Esperanza, to the north of San Salvador, the authorities tried to launch some of the activities used by the programme, in mid-2015, but the efforts were frustrated because of the gangs that control the prison, he added.

“If we let the criminal structures run this, it’s not going to work,” Molina said.

Next year, he added, they will try to get activities going even in those prisons that specifically hold gang members, such as the one in Chalatenango, in the north of the country, which houses members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. It is one of the most violent gangs along with Barrio 18.

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UN Sees Key Role for Women in Post-2015 Development Agenda Thu, 24 Dec 2015 18:29:00 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which has launched an intense world-wide campaign to ensure the full implementation of its post-2015 development agenda, is unequivocal in asserting that gender equality and women’s empowerment are indispensable to the realization of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders last September.

And Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is emphatic in his resounding political message: the world will never achieve 100 percent of its development goals until and unless 50 percent of its people — namely women—are treated “as full and equal participants in all realms.”

Reaffirming this message, Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, told IPS gender equality and women’s empowerment are indispensable to the realization of sustainable development.

This is strongly reflected in the outcomes of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development adopted last July and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted last September.

She pointed out that these outcomes strongly commit themselves to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, including through increased investments to close the gender gap.

The very first paragraph of the Addis Ababa Agenda declares: “We will achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

While the 2030 Agenda recognizes that gender inequality is the mother of all inequalities, both as an inequality among, and within countries, it is also a stand-alone SDG on achieving gender equality, Puri said.

The 17 SDGs include ending hunger and poverty, ensuring healthy lives, achieving gender equality, protecting the global environment and ensuring sustainable energy, among others.

These goals are expected to be achieved by 2030.

Addressing a high-level event on women in power and decision-making early this year, the secretary-general admitted there are far more women in politics around the world today than in the last few decades.

“But progress is too slow and uneven,” he complained.

No country has full equality for women, he said, pointing out that on average, women make up just one in five national parliamentarians. The world has around 20 women national leaders.

But five of the world’s parliaments have no women, and eight governments have no women ministers, Ban said.
In too many countries, women suffer from domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and other forms of violence.

“These acts traumatize individuals and damage our societies,” the secretary-general said.

“We cannot uphold human rights or advance development unless we put an end to the global epidemic of violence against women and girls,” he declared.

Puri said: “We have a once-in a-century opportunity – the biggest ever – to realize the true promise and potential of gender equality and women’s empowerment and the realization of their human rights “.

For the first time, she pointed out, the essentialism of gender equality and women’s empowerment has been recognized and reaffirmed in Agenda 2030 which says that that “sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities” – and which was adopted at the Summit level by 193 countries of the world.

“What is more, gender equality is increasingly seen as mission possible— the dedicated, comprehensive and transformative SDG 5 is about achieving not only promoting Gender equality and it is about empowering all women and girls and leaving no one behind “.

There is a commitment to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap; to strengthen gender equality institutions; and to systematically mainstream gender equality and women’s empowerment in all aspects of the implementation of Agenda 2030 .

Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls in law and practice and ending violence against women are sustainable development targets– as are valuing and provisioning unpaid care work of women, equal participation and leadership in economic, political and public life, universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and equal access, ownership and control over resources and economic empowerment, Puri added.

There is also commitment to accelerate the pace of implementation and change so that gender equality and women empowerment (GEWE) is achieved within this generation – Planet 50/50 by 2030 and hence to Step it up for Gender equality, she declared.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

The writer can be contacted at

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World’s Poor Trailing Far Behind Rich in Digital Technology Tue, 22 Dec 2015 23:42:11 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The world’s developing nations, numbering over 130, are still lagging far behind the 34 rich industrialized countries in the race for digital technology.

In the developed world, 81.3 percent of households now have home-Internet access compared with 34.1 percent in the developing world, according to the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

But far worse are the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world’s poor, with only 6.7 percent households having online access.

And even as digital technology progresses by leaps and bounds, the United Nations says only about 3.2 billion people — out of a total world population of 7.3 billion — are online, leaving the remaining 4.1 billion out in the cold.

Still, mobile cellular subscriptions have made tremendous strides reaching out to almost 7.1 billion worldwide, with over 95 percent of the world population covered by a mobile-cellular signal, according to the UN.

A high-level meeting of the General Assembly last week reaffirmed one of the basic human rights recognized by the United Nations: that every person in today’s digitalized world should have the means to access information and communications technologies (ICTs), described as a “key driver” of sustainable development.

The meeting, which was a 10-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10) held in Tunis in 2005, highlighted the significant digital divides—between men and women and between rich and poor nations — which need to be addressed urgently.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out more than 80 percent of households in developed countries have internet access but two out of three households in developing countries do not.

“Women are half the global population – yet 200 million fewer women than men have access to the Internet. We must bridge these divides,” he declared.

The outcome WSIS document, adopted at the high-level meeting, also addressed the new and emerging challenges, including cybercrimes, cyber attacks, and the use of ICTs for terrorist purposes.

The document recognized the leading role for governments in cybersecurty matters relating to national security. It further recognized the important role of international law, especially the UN Charter, in building confidence and security in the use of ICTs by member states.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, a researcher in the Essex Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project at the University of Essex in UK, told IPS recent events have heightened the need to be more vigilant against the use of the internet by terrorist groups and there have been calls for increased powers of surveillance for security agencies.

“However, we stress the importance of taking measured and proportionate steps that respect the privacy and the rights of all in a democratic society”.

The measures taken should be evidence-based as to their effectiveness, must be anchored in the basic human rights principles of accountability, transparency and non-discrimination, he noted.

“This is why we thought it was so crucial that the WISIS+10 review make the human-rights based approach a central pillar of the outcome document.”

“While the final document is a vast improvement from the initial drafts that were drawn up several weeks ago– and we welcome the increased prominence given to the provisions on human rights — it could have done a lot more to highlight and address the challenges that ICT poses beyond issues related to privacy, accessibility and security,” said Dr Shaheed, a former Foreign Minister of the Maldives.

Kathryn Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of Internet Society (ISOC) expressed strong support for the unequivocal commitment to the multi-stakeholder model, first adopted at the 2005 Tunis summit.

She was also supportive of the renewal of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum, and the central focus on creating a digital-enabling environment aimed at achieving the UN’s recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, the outcome statement failed to fully recognize the transnational nature of the Internet as a borderless “network of networks”. It sought to apply national solutions to global problems, particularly those related to safety and security, Brown told delegates.

That stance was compounded by an “unfortunate” misbelief by some that cooperation only among Governments was sufficient to solve issues that required the expertise and commitment of all.

“As more people — and things — come online, many challenges, known and unknown, lie ahead,” she added. And government-centric processes were only one of the many ways solutions could be crafted and implemented.

Solving twenty-first century problems required the collaboration of all stakeholders through twenty-first century mechanisms, she declared.

“ICT has played an increasingly important role in promoting economic and social development, such as enhancing productivity, facilitating trade, creating quality jobs, providing ICT-based services such as e-health and e-learning, and improving governance,” said Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting.

The General Assembly also decided to extend the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for another 10 years, while recognizing that during this period, the IGF should continue to show progress on working modalities, and participation of relevant stakeholders from developing countries.

The member States also called for close alignment between the WSIS process and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, highlighting ICT’s cross-cutting contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and poverty eradication.

Constance Bommelaer, Senior Director, Global Internet Policy at Internet Society (ISOC) told IPS the agreed outcome document represents overall a positive vision by re-committing to the Tunis agreement and the principle of a multistakeholder model for Internet governance.

Recognizing the role that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays, the WSIS+10 outcome document renews the IGF’s mandate, and finally, it asserts that human rights online must be protected as they are offline.

“We are especially pleased with how the review process has been conducted and managed by the co-facilitators from the UAE and Latvia. It can be truly called a success,” she declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Aspects of Dualism in the Gulf Thu, 03 Dec 2015 21:33:33 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 3 2015 (IPS)

The crash in oil prices is not the only challenge confronting the Gulf States in West Asia. Economic disorder and lack of opportunity are contributing to instability in the region, stated Bahrain’s minister for industry, commerce and tourism, Zayed Al Zayani, while kicking off the recent IISS Bahrain Bay Forum. He emphasized the need for “unprecedented” economic reform across the Gulf in the wake of the lower oil revenues. These policies include the generation of millions of jobs for the youth in these economies that continue to depend heavily on expatriate labour from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The Gulf States face the prospect of a demographic dividend of a youth bulge in the population rapidly turning into a curse, thanks to high and rising rates of unemployment for those between 15 to 24 years of age. The highest rates are in Saudi Arabia (28.7 per cent), Bahrain (27.9 per cent), Oman (20.5 per cent) and Kuwait (19.6 per cent). India, too, has double digit rates of joblessness among the young like many of these economies. There was a suggestion at the Bahrain Bay Forum that such high rates of youth unemployment are a proximate factor behind the surge in militant terrorism, exemplified by the rise of the Daesh or ISIS.

The prospect of lower oil revenues certainly will constrain the Gulf States to diversify their economies away from dependence on this commodity. Countries like Bahrain seek to focus on education and training, communications and infrastructure and promoting a start-up ecosystem for fostering entrepreneurship. The level of ambition is also high as they intend to generate high skill jobs and build a knowledge- based economy. The technology sector in the Gulf States is likely expected to grow by 10 per cent per annum over the next five years while the spending on technology in the Middle East as a whole is expected to touch $200 billion.

However, the transition to this brave new world requires bridging the skills gap. The labour market in this region depends heavily on low skilled and low wage earning migrant labour. More than 80 per cent of the workforce in private sector employment in Bahrain is comprised of expatriates. It goes up to 96 per cent and 98 per cent in Kuwait and Qatar respectively. In sharp contrast, the nationals are disproportionately represented in the bloated public sector. So, one form of dualism in the labour market is that the private sector is dominated wholly by expatriates while the public sector is largely for the locals in the Gulf.

Another source of dualism is that women are not adequately represented in the labour market due to pervasive gender discrimination in these conservative economies. Although women’s enrolment in higher educational institutions is rapidly rising of late — a case in point are courses in financial services in Bahrain which attract a lot of women — female labour force participation rates are well below 30 per cent as against the global average of 50 per cent. Jobless among young females is as high as 55 per cent in Saudi Arabia which is three-times higher than that of young males, according to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators.

Gulf’s labour market thus is “locked in a low skills, low wages and low productivity equilibrium” argued Frank Hagemann, deputy regional director of ILO, at one of the sessions at the Bay Forum. This dualism is reflected in a substantial wage gap between the private and public sector. At the lower end, the living and working conditions of migrants is sub-standard and highly exploitative in nature. Dependency-driven employee-employers relations are rife. The big challenge for the Gulf States is to kick-start the transition from this state of affairs to one driven by higher skills, higher wages and productivity.

What is the impact of abundant supplies of low skilled, low productivity expatriate population queried Ausamah Al Absi, chief executive, Labour Market Regulatory Authority in Bahrain? If an entrepreneur were to make an investment in a state-of-the-art printing press in Germany, he has to employ high technology and productivity tools as the cost of manpower is high. But in Bahrain, he can go for lower technology supported by a low skilled workforce. Pursuing a capital-intensive option in a low wage economy is not on. For such demand-side reasons, this entrepreneur will naturally be rendered uncompetitive in this economy, felt Al Absi.

Low oil prices complicate the efforts of the Gulf States to address these distortions without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If revenues continue to decline, a worry is that it reduces the fiscal space to pay nationals in the public sector. At the same time, there is a compulsion to reduce subsidies on water, electricity and school fees that will disproportionately hit the expatriate workforce. The Gulf economies thus will make it more and more difficult for the expatriates to work in these economies over the near-term Controls on migration appear inevitable, regardless of the heavy dependence on such labour at present.

The transition to a higher skills, wages and productivity equilibrium is far from easy. It entails changes over a generation. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, 40 per cent of the graduates come from humanities or Islamic studies while only 4 per cent are engineers. Stepping up the numbers of engineers takes more time. Yet there is a temptation to look for quick fixes like inviting tech giants in the US to set up cloud computing courses in the Gulf States! At the Bay Forum, Bahrain announced a $100 million venture capital based fund to that will work as the first cloud technology accelerator in the region. Can such moves kick-start hi-tech start-ups? Intermediate steps are perhaps more necessary like vocational and on-the-job training. Only 17 per cent of firms in the Gulf States provide on-the-job training as against the global average of 35 per cent. The best bet for these countries is greater gender empowerment in the labour market than expat-bashing policies to reduce sources of instability.


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Women Farmers Strive to Combat Climate Change in the Caribbean Wed, 02 Dec 2015 05:59:36 +0000 Desmond Brown 0 In Botswana: Leaving the Corporate Office to Work the Land – and Finding Opportunity Mon, 30 Nov 2015 11:14:24 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom 0 Opinion: Ending Child Marriage – What Difference Can a Summit Make? Thu, 26 Nov 2015 23:08:31 +0000 Samuel Musyoki

Samuel Musyoki is currently the Country Director of Plan International Zambia and the Chair for 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Southern Africa Programme.

By Samuel Musyoki
LUSAKA, Zambia, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

The long-awaited African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage is here.

It presents an opportunity to share experiences and reflect on what we need to do differently if we want to step up our efforts towards ending child marriage, an issue close to my heart.

I’ve seen what being a child bride can do to a girl.

I have five sisters, three of whom were married as children. As such, my sisters did not get a good education. They gave birth at an early age and now they are faced with challenges and limited opportunities. Now I am a father to three girls. I want a different life for them and for all the other girls growing up across Africa – and the rest of the world.

The summit, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Zambia, is taking place in Lusaka this week. It follows the launch at the May 2014 Africa Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa of the campaign to end early and forced child marriage.

Both the campaign and summit are significant for a continent, home to an estimated 7 million child brides.

While we have made good progress working in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and national levels to influence policy and legal changes, more needs to be done at the grassroots level.

Long-term engagement with communities is key if we want to end child marriage across Africa.

Child rights organisation Plan International is dedicated to tackling child marriage and we’ve learnt time and time again, the perception of this issue is almost universally negative.

Yet why does it still happen?

Marriage for a 14 year old girl should not be seen as the only option for parents or for children. That’s fundamentally flawed.

If we want to make a difference, we need to look at how governments and civil society can change with communities to help them realise the impact of child marriage. We need to work with girls to help them understand the value of education and the benefits of the life they can have if they stay in school. But transforming attitudes and practices that have become acceptable over time requires investment in innovative approaches that draw on and build on the knowledge of all relevant actors at policy and grassroots levels.

Plan International has been working against child marriages alongside community-based organisations, regional traditional leaders, media and national governments. By creating local and regional platforms to raise awareness, to discuss and to take action, the pressure is building up to eliminate early child marriage in Africa.

Focusing on Southern Africa, Plan International´s “18+ Programme” on ending child marriages in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique has been engaging with and transforming communities and societies. It contributed significantly to convince the Malawian Parliament, which recently passed a law to declare 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.

Now, more than ever, is the time to bring all actors together and tackle the issue of early child marriage across the continent. After all, we can neither keep the promise of the African Children’s Charter, nor attain the new Sustainable Development Goals if young girls and women continue to suffer early child marriage.

Progress is being made and it’s heartening to seeing discussions taking place across the board. It gives us hope that it is possible to end child marriage within a generation.


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“Jasmine Revolution” Challenges Male Domination of Tea Trade Unions Wed, 18 Nov 2015 08:11:27 +0000 Harikrishnan 0 From Bangladesh to Bihar Wed, 11 Nov 2015 22:47:23 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

Times are a-changing for Bihar, a state popularly described as a state of mind. The recent elections have brought back Nitish Kumar as the chief minister for the fifth time. Since his first innings as a developmental CM from 2005, he has transformed Bihar from being an archetype of India’s backwardness to one of its fastest growing states. Besides improving governance, he has also politically empowered women in that benighted state. Not surprisingly, the women’s vote was decisive for his electoral success. He now has the historic opportunity to shift gears towards sustainable gender-based development.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Towards this end, Bihar’s CM has to look only eastward towards Bangladesh to know the limits of the possible. The landslide vote in his favour has opened up possibilities that many thought didn’t exist before. Lawlessness, misrule and rampant corruption of successive regimes in the past that ensured a dismal track record in development have been banished for now. Stirrings of change will be felt, above all, in law and order. Better governance is bound to change the narrative of development, especially on what he wants to do in primary education, especially for the girl child. What about public health?

To encourage more girls to attend school, the state administration provided free bicycles for school-going children. This resulted in an uptrend in female literacy rates, rising over 20 percentage points between the two decennial census years, 2001 and 2011. This was much more than was observed in the case of males in that state or nationally, for that matter. Promoting greater gender parity in school enrolment thus has been a consistent objective of Nitish Kumar’s stints in office as CM. The priority must now include drastically reducing the numbers of girls without access to schooling.

Kumar’s thrust on education must continue with greater vigour as there is a vast unfinished agenda. When his government first took office in 2005, there were 2.4 million children out of school. This has now been halved to 1.2 million in 2014 according to the “National Sample Survey of Estimation of Out-of-School Children in the Age 6-13 in India” done for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, a flagship government scheme for the universalisation of elementary education. This works out to a higher percentage of 4.9 per cent than the 3 per cent of 204 million school-going children at an all-India level.

The fact that Bihar is still a poor state amidst potential plenty – it has a much higher percentage of its rural population in poverty – cannot be an argument for not pushing the limits of development. Bangladesh is also poor when compared to India, but that hasn’t prevented it from improving the socio-economic conditions of women. According to the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, due to the official focus on women in Bangladesh, a much higher proportion of workers such as school teachers, family planning workers, health carers, immunization workers and even factory workers are women as are in garments.

Bihar (and even India) of course has a long way to go to catch up with the higher rates of female labour force participation in Bangladesh. This measures the number of women above 15 years of age who are engaged or are willing to be engaged in economic activity as a share of women’s population above 15 years of age. In Bihar, this is a lowly 9 per cent as against 57 per cent in Bangladesh. A factor that makes it easier for Bihar to encourage more women to work is that the CM has already politically empowered them since 2006 to participate in decentralized administration at the panchayat or village level.

Despite the best agro-climatic conditions, this state is the bastion of semi-feudal agriculture and there is a preponderance of marginal holdings with low productivity. The relations of production act as barrier on technological change. While beefing up rural infrastructure is imperative, technological change will not take place unless the relations of production also change. The hope is that with better governance, a difference can be made on the poverty front that is essentially one of low agricultural productivity. To plug gaps in development works, the CM has made a beginning by appointing more teachers, doctors, engineers, policeman and officials. Tapping the latent energies of women can help him realise these objectives more efficaciously.

While Bihar no doubt has the advantage of faster growth to impact rural poverty, Bangladesh has managed to achieve much more on human development despite slower growth than India. In 1990, the life expectancy at birth was higher in India but that position rapidly reversed in the next couple of decades. Between 1990 and 2014, it rose by 12 years from 59 to 71 years in Bangladesh. They thus have a life expectancy that is four years longer than Indians or Biharis, for that matter. The huge gains in health are reflected in the dramatic reduction in infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

These are the prospects ahead of Bihar’s developmental CM. He needs to accelerate the pace of progress on education and health so that the workforce of the state has the best prospect of taking advantage of the so-called demographic dividend of a predominantly young population. All these possibilities have suddenly opened up with his fifth innings as CM. With a mandate for governance and development, he faces the challenge of converting these possibilities into probabilities and transforming lives of 108 million people in Bihar through improvements in gender-sensitive social sector spending.

The last thing the people of Bihar need is another regime that will trigger another caste war and plunge the state into darkness and anarchy as happened in previous decades. However, there is change in the air. There is hope that this state can economically empower its women as it has done politically. That it can also reap the dividends that its eastern neighbouring country has achieved in bringing about a many-sided improvement in human development in the fastest possible time. Bihar must leverage its faster growth to ensure better outcomes in sustainable development.


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Analysis: Is Empowerment of Women a Will-o’-the-Wisp? Tue, 10 Nov 2015 16:49:57 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok_ul

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha

Few dispute that women’s autonomy and betterment of their lives are moral imperatives. But whether these are also key to economic development is contested.

In an admirably cogent article, Esther Duflo (2013) evaluates a bi-directional relationship between women’s empowerment and development. Although somewhat overemphatic about the role that development alone can play in driving down gender inequality, she highlights that affirmative action has an important role, too. Amartya Sen, in several influential writings, however, has forcefully argued that continuing discrimination against women can hinder development. We are inclined to this view as “masculinity” is unrelated to development.

Dominance and control over women are set in male attributes and behaviour (“masculinity”), regarded as a shared social ideal. Masculinity is characterised by two factors — namely, “relationship control” as a behavioural attribute and “attitudes towards gender equality” as an underlying value. Behavioural changes are, however, slower than changes in male attitudes (UNFPA, 2014).

Women’s empowerment is defined “as improving the ability of women to access the constituents of development—in particular health, education, earning opportunities, rights, and political participation” (Duflo, 2012).

Gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls are enshrined in SDG 5. This is an ambitious goal. The litany of sub-goals is impressive but daunting. These include ending of all forms of discrimination against all women and girls; elimination of all forms of violence against them in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation; ensuring their full participation in opportunities for leadership in political, economic and social spheres; universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; and equal rights to all economic resources including land.

Duflo argues that gender inequality is often greater among the poor, both within and across countries. Moreover, within countries, gaps between boys and girls persist in poorer and more isolated communities. But economic growth, by reducing poverty and expanding livelihood opportunities, has the potential for reducing gender inequality.

Are girls treated differently than boys? Yes, but only during crises. In India, for example, the excessive mortality rate of girls, relative to boys, spikes during droughts. So, in extreme circumstances, improved access to health services would disproportionately help girls, even if parents do not change their behaviour toward them. This flies in the face of mounting evidence of female foeticide, infanticide and pervasive neglect of girls in education, and wage disparities in some of the more affluent northern states in India. In fact, the selective abortion of female foetuses, usually after a first born girl, has increased over the past few decades, and has contributed to a widening imbalance in the child sex ratio. Cultural taboos prevent women from reporting, for example, gynaecological disorders unless they become acute. So we are far less sanguine about improved access to health services as a by-product of growth –a somewhat dubious proposition in itself – benefiting girls and women disproportionately.

At all level of incomes, women do the majority of housework and care and, correspondingly, spend less time in market work. Constrained in these ways, they are more likely to be engaged in informal but hardly remunerative home-based enterprises. So if economic development frees their time, they are more likely to switch to more productive activities. But this overlooks the imperfections of credit markets that deny them credit for being not creditworthy. Besides, social norms restrict their mobility.

Are labour market outcomes likely to be more favourable? A recent World Bank study (2015) is far from reassuring. It reports that in the workplace, females earn between 20 per cent and 80 per cent lower average wages than do males, depending on the country. Evidence from India’s Labour Bureau is more definitive. The data show that there has been little progress in terms of parity of salaries for men and women for equivalent work. Even more alarming is the fact that, in some spheres of activity in rural areas, the divide has widened. As of 2013, the discrimination in wages paid to women tends to be higher in physically intensive activities (such as ploughing and well-digging), but lower in the case of work such as sowing and harvesting.

So development alone will not accomplish much –indeed, much less than conjectured by Duflo – in empowering women. She doesn’t of course overlook the case for affirmative action to ensure greater participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres. But she remains sceptical of women’s empowerment contributing substantially to development as women are not always the best decision-makers.

Let us consider two examples from her research in which women made a positive contribution to development.

In an earlier but highly influential study (with Chattopadhyay) of Panchayats (village councils) in two Indian states, headed by women elected through quotas, it is demonstrated that these Panchayats invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the expressed development priorities of women. In West Bengal, for example, where women complained more often than men about water and roads, the Panchayats invested more in water and roads. In Rajasthan, where women complained more often about drinking water but less about roads, the councils invested more in water and less in roads. Whether such choices would have been made in the absence of quotas for women heads of Panchayats is highly unlikely. Besides, there may be dynamic gains through changes in male attitudes towards women as decision-makers. Questions, however, remain about complaints by women as a preference revelation mechanism in a rural setting, as also about women Panchayat heads’ autonomy or ability to ignore or circumvent investment allocation priorities handed down from “above”.

In a test of whether income in the hands of women of a household has a different impact on intra-household allocation than income in the hands of the men, she found that pensions received by women in South Africa translated into better nutrition for girls. In contrast, no such effect was found when the pension was received by a man and no corresponding effects were obtained for boys.

Duflo is, however, far from convinced that women generally make the best decisions for development and thus there is a real risk of exaggerating their contribution. The fact that returns on loans given to women to run small enterprises are lower (or even zero) relative to those run by men is not conclusive evidence of women entrepreneurs’ inefficiency. This is a muddled inference for two reasons: as noted by her, women are often compelled to engage in home-based but hardly remunerative enterprises by their family responsibilities and binding time constraint. Relaxation of not just this but other constraints enhances their returns substantially.

A recent World Bank study (2015), as a synthesis of empirical evidence, is illuminating.

Women running subsistence-level firms are prone to external pressures to divest some of the cash from loans or grants to relatives or household expenses.

Evidence shows that women’s demand for saving accounts is high. A review of nine randomized field experiments in countries covering different regions (including Kenya, Philippines, Nepal and Guatemala) shows that savings are a promising way to improve rural women’s productivity. In Western Kenya, for example, women with access to savings accounts invested 45 percent more in their businesses and were less prone to sell business assets during health emergencies.

Capital in-kind (e.g. a physical asset such as livestock) works better than in cash to nudge women to keep the money in the business rather than to divert it for household use or pass it on to relatives.

Many of women’s additional constraints can be overcome by simple, inexpensive adjustments in programme/intervention design.

A two-month grace period versus immediate repayment requirements for poor urban women borrowers in Kolkata, India, significantly raised long-run (three-year) business profits by encouraging risk taking.

Women enjoy greater autonomy if they are able to use mobile money services to conduct financial transactions in private, receive reminders to save and obtain information on prices in real time without having to travel long distances.

Panel household survey data for Bangladesh, covering a twenty-year period, show a beneficial effect, greater for females than for males, of 20-year cumulative microcredit borrowing on household per capita income and the reduction of extreme poverty.

Business skills matter. A vocational training programme in slums in New Delhi imparting skills in tailoring enhanced employment, self- employment and earnings of women but attrition rate was high due to lack of child care support and distance.

In conclusion, the evidence supports the view that economic development and women’s empowerment reinforce each other. If women’s empowerment is a by-product of development, it is just that. That women’s empowerment is a major driver of development is contested but highly plausible.


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Opinion: Women on Reproductive Strike Thu, 29 Oct 2015 19:05:00 +0000 Joseph Chamie

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

Women are having fewer than two children on average in 83 countries, representing nearly half of the world’s population. And in some countries, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea and Spain, average fertility levels are now closer to one child per woman than the replacement level of about two children (Figure 1).

Largely as a result of women’s reproductive decisions, the populations of 48 countries are projected to be smaller and have older age structures by mid-century. Looking further ahead, the prospects for those countries are compounded over time resulting in even smaller and older populations by the close of the century.

For example, if Japan’s fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman were to remain unchanged, its current population of 127 million would be 64 million by 2100 with more than 40 percent of the Japanese aged 65 years and older. Similar demographic outcomes occur in many other countries when low fertility levels remain unchanged, such as Germany, Italy, Russia and South Korea (Figure 2).
Based on the demographic trends observed over the last five decades, once birth rates fall below the replacement level, especially when less than 1.6 births per woman, they tend to stay there. And even if birth rates were to increase somewhat, the pool of women of childbearing age in many of the low fertility countries is shrinking, resulting in fewer babies being born.

Although relatively little supporting empirical research exists, countries tend to view demographic decline and population ageing as critical concerns. They believe those demographic trends will have serious repercussions on national interests affecting economic growth, military defence, cultural integrity, pensions and health care, especially for the elderly.

Some governments, including Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea, have concluded that intervention efforts are needed to raise their country’s birth rates in order to stem the projected decreases and rapid aging of their populations. Most recently, those twin demographic concerns have led China to announce that it is abolishing its one-child policy in favour of a two-child policy per couple.

However, despite government policies, considerable financial expenditures and various pronatalist initiatives, including national conception day, family night, “love cruises,” match-making, economic incentives, promotion of motherhood and appeals to patriotism and civic duty, efforts to raise fertility back near the replacement level have generally failed to convince women to have more children. In many low fertility countries birthrates have remained well below replacement for decades.

There are many factors or reasons why fertility levels have fallen below replacement and continue to persist at low levels. Marriage as a valued social institution has declined with divorce and separation becoming more common and acceptable. Also, marriage is no longer being viewed as just for reproductive purposes.

Opportunities for education, employment, mobility and financial independence, together with effective contraception, permit women to delay or forgo motherhood altogether. In many developed countries, especially in Europe, 10 per cent of women in their forties are childless and even in some, such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the number is close to 20 per cent.

Also instead of marriage many women and men are choosing to cohabitate, thereby avoiding legal issues, social responsibilities and long-term commitments. Even if they subsequently decide to marry, many are content to continue with their partner just as a couple.

Growing numbers of young women as well as men are choosing personal self-fulfillment and career development rather than centring their lives on family and children. After years of being without children, many have become accustomed to an urban life style, higher social and economic status and unrestricted freedoms.

Women also report that they have no children because they are not able to find a suitable partner who would be willing to share equally in parenting and household chores. For example, when asked if she wanted to have a child, one young Japanese woman replied, “No, because in order to have a baby I’d have to marry a baby.”

Also, many young couples find that they cannot live on one person’s income alone and therefore both are obliged to work. The additional costs of children plus the need to save for longer years of old age place increased financial demands on household income as well as exerting powerful brakes on childbearing.

Another compelling factor accounting for low fertility in many countries is the lack of sufficient support and social services for those with children, especially single-parent families. That issue has become particularly salient given the fact that the majority of women are no longer simply mothers but are working mothers.

The demands of employment, career development and parenting combined with the costs of childrearing have also created “the hurdle of the second child.” Given those pressing circumstances, especially as childcare still falls largely on women, many mothers are reluctant to have a second child. Even if some women decide to cross the second-child hurdle, comparatively few are willing to consider having three or more children.

Some women as well as men have limited their fertility due to concerns about global overpopulation and its damaging consequences on the natural environment. They are convinced that the world would be a better and more sustainable place to live with low birthrates, which would in turn lead to a smaller future global population.

Government policies and schemes to encourage women to have more births in order to stem population decline and ageing have also encountered resistance and objections about unwarranted government interference and meddling in women’s lives. In Germany, for example, the recent introduction of a childcare allowance for stay-at-home mothers was harshly criticized for discouraging women to pursue careers as is widely promoted and expected of men and fathers.

Will governments be successful in persuading women to call off their reproductive strike and have significantly more children, thereby perhaps raising fertility rates to near the replacement level? It seems highly doubtful.

Based on their current behaviour and what they’re reporting, women in low fertility countries are not likely to increase their reproduction for the sake of the nation, limited financial incentives or other governmental pronatalist schemes. Most young women have decided not to return to the traditional, restrictive reproductive roles that their mothers and grandmothers followed. Consequently, for the foreseeable future, birthrates in low fertility countries are likely to remain below the replacement level.


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