Inter Press Service » Women & Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Women’s Groups Say Gender Equality is a Must for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:41:30 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141290 By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endless hardships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Our station, our issues”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portable, affordable, accessible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign.

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

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

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

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When residents become rangers

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

Massive Boost for Mangroves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this was easier said than done.

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

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

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

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

Futures tied to the land

The entire scheme relies on community action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-confidence and self-reliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Domestics in Mexico Face Abuse and Scant Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/domestics-in-mexico-face-abuse-and-scant-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=domestics-in-mexico-face-abuse-and-scant-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/domestics-in-mexico-face-abuse-and-scant-protection/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 15:59:29 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141155 Domestics celebrating the approval of the convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (Convention No. 189) at International Labour Organisation headquarters in Geneva in June 2011. Credit: ILO

Domestics celebrating the approval of the convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (Convention No. 189) at International Labour Organisation headquarters in Geneva in June 2011. Credit: ILO

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

Her last two jobs left a bitter taste in the mouth of Yoloxochitl Solís, a 48-year-old single mother from Mexico. She sums up the experience in two words: abuse and discrimination.

“My employer would throw the food and medicine back in my face,” Solís told IPS. “She started to be rude to me, because she didn’t like me to say hello to people who were visiting her, she wanted me to stay shut up in the kitchen – I couldn’t even go out to the bathroom.”

Solís, who raised her 24-year-old son on her own, and whose first name means “flower heart” in the Náhuatl indigenous tongue, worked from 2000 to 2005 in a home in Villa Olímpica, a middle-class neighbourhood on the south side of Mexico City, where she cleaned, cooked and took care of a woman in her eighties.

“The hostile way she treated me was really strange, because there was no reason for them to discriminate against anyone,” she said, talking about the elderly woman and her son, who was in his sixties.

She earned roughly 20 dollars a day, two of which paid for her one-hour commute to and from work every day. Her workdays were long, from Monday through Saturday, and the only benefit she received was a small annual bonus. Tired of the mistreatment, she finally quit.“Domestic workers are fired without justification, accused of theft, thrown in jail over accusations of all kinds just to avoid paying them, and suffer sexual harassment. They have no protection, and their work is not valued.” -- Marcelina Bautista

But her next job was even worse. She was recommended by a nephew, and began to look after a stroke victim who had two children, also in Villa Olímpica.

Theoretically her workday was from 8:30 to 15:00. “But I would leave as late as eight o’clock at night; there was always something to do, and even if I was ill, I couldn’t miss work.”

In March, Solís ended up sick in bed with a fever in her home in the poor neighbourhood of Magdalena Contreras, to the south of Mexico City. “They shouted at me, insulted me, wouldn’t listen,” she said. As a result, she quit the job she had since 2006.

Stories like hers are routine in Mexico, where domestic workers suffer discrimination, exploitative working conditions, sexual harassment and low wages, with little protection from the law.

Mexico has not yet ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers, which was adopted in 2011 and went into effect two years later.

The binding convention, which Mexico signed in 2011, asserts that domestic workers are entitled to the same basic rights as other workers, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, clear information on the terms and conditions of employment, freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection from abuse and harassment, formal contracts, social security coverage and maternity leave.

Convention 189 is accompanied by Recommendation 201, a non-binding instrument that provides practical guidance on possible legal measures to help enforce the rights and principles established in the convention.

The recommendation also addresses areas not covered by the convention, such as vocational training policies and programmes, international cooperation, and protection of the rights of domestic workers employed by diplomatic personnel.

“Domestic workers are fired without justification, accused of theft, thrown in jail over accusations of all kinds just to avoid paying them, and suffer sexual harassment,” said Marcelina Bautista, founder and director of the non-governmental Centre for Support and Training for Domestic Workers (CACEH).

“They have no protection, and their work is not valued,” Bautista, originally from the impoverished southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, told IPS.

Bautista, who is also the Latin America regional coordinator of the International Domestic Workers Federation, speaks from experience: she began to work as a domestic in Mexico City at the age of 14.

The abuse she experienced opened her eyes to the difficulties faced by domestics, and she returned to school with the aim of helping to improve conditions for maids.

CACEH receives three to five complaints a day, most of them involving unfair dismissal and discrimination, which are referred to a group of pro bono lawyers if they are not settled through dialogue. The Centre also offers advice to domestics about their rights, and runs a job placement programme.

The numbers tell the story

In the report “Labour Conditions of Domestic Workers”, published in April by the National Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination, stresses the classism, violence, racism and grievances suffered by domestics.

An estimated 2.3 million people, over 90 percent of them women, work as domestics in this Latin American country of 120 million people.

Domestics tend to have little formal schooling, are often paid under the table, have long workdays, and frequently inherit their positions from their mothers or other family members.

Based on surveys among domestics and their employers, the National Commission found that the main conflicts arose from false accusations of theft, searches of their belongings, verbal abuse including putdowns and insults, and even physical mistreatment.

Domestics interviewed complained that they had no social security coverage, were paid low wages and were mistreated, and that they had to do heavy and demanding work with no set working hours.

They also complained that their employers violated the terms of their contracts.

They said they had become domestics because they couldn’t afford to continue their studies and did not have other options.

The average age of the respondents was 35, while 28 percent were between the ages of 18 and 25, and five percent were minors.

Of those interviewed, 36 percent began to work between the legal working age of 15 and 18, and 21 percent started before turning 15.

In addition, 23 percent were indigenous, and of that portion, 33 percent had suffered derogatory treatment and 25 percent were prohibited from speaking their own language.

During the 104th Session of the ILO’s International Labour Conference, held Jun. 1-13 in Geneva, the Mexican government reported that it was studying how to reconcile Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 with the Federal Labour Law that was amended in 2012 without including the commitments assumed in Convention 189.

But the government did not meet the prior invitation by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations to send the text to the legislature as early as possible for ratification, in order for it to enter into effect.

The Latin American countries that have ratified the convention so far are Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay, according to the ILO.

Solís admitted that she had no idea there was an international convention that could protect her and other domestic workers. “It’s very important for us to be oriented about our work and our rights,” she said.

Bautista said it was difficult to raise awareness among decision-makers. The activist said Convention 189 was “fundamental because it is better than any national law. Furthermore, legislation must be brought into line with the convention; the laws do not protect domestic workers.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: G20 Turkish Presidency Keen to Benefit the Global Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g20-turkish-presidency-keen-to-benefit-the-global-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-g20-turkish-presidency-keen-to-benefit-the-global-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g20-turkish-presidency-keen-to-benefit-the-global-community/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 17:05:43 +0000 Selim Yenel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141016 Ambassador Selim Yenel. Credit: Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU

Ambassador Selim Yenel. Credit: Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU

By Selim Yenel
BRUSSELS, Jun 7 2015 (IPS)

Turkey assumed the Presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) on Dec. 1, 2014. It will culminate in the Antalya Summit on Nov. 15-16. Our priorities build upon the G20 multi-year agenda, but also reflect particular themes we see as important for 2015.

(The G20 comprises a mix of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, representing about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade. They include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.)We have a moral obligation to address inequality, which also hinders economic growth.

We want to channel the influence of the G20 also for the benefit of the global community. Spain, Azerbaijan, Singapore and the Chairs of ASEAN (Malaysia), African Union (Zimbabwe) and NEPAD-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Senegal) are invited to G20 meetings.

We have an ambitious agenda, a clear focus and an intense work plan. We frame our priorities as ‘3 Is’. – Implementation, Inclusiveness, Investment.

Implementation:

– Turning words into actions. Implementing our collective G-20 commitments.

– G20 members committed themselves to policy measures over 1,000 in total, estimated to lift collective G20 growth by an additional 2.1 percent over the next five years. (the so-called “2 in 5” target)

– The IMF and OECD calculate that implementing G20 growth strategies can generate additional two trillion dollars to the world economy, an output equivalent to the size of the Indian economy.

– The first accountability report on how much progress we have collectively made towards our growth target will be presented to the G20 Summit in Antalya.

Inclusiveness:

– The G20’s overarching aim has been to foster strong, sustainable and balanced growth. One of our primary goals is to add “inclusive” growth to this, both at the national and international level.

– We have a moral obligation to address inequality, which also hinders economic growth. It has been worsened by the effects of the global financial crisis. (Among OECD countries, inequality is at its highest level in 30 years)

– Last year, the G20 made a commitment to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25 percent until 2025 (our 25 by 25 target). Its implementation will bring additional 100 million women into the workforce.

– We will strive to achieve a collective G20 target for youth unemployment.

– SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are another important element. They are the powerhouse of employment, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

– We launched the World SME Forum (WSF) on May 23. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan announced the official launch of this forum, a major new initiative to drive the contributions of SMEs to global economic growth and employment. For the first time, there will now be a united and global voice of SMEs.

– Low Income Developing Countries (LIDCs) are an important focal point. Our message: the G20 is not only concerned about its own interests but its policies should also benefit the entire community, resulting in a better global dialogue.

Investment:

– Investment is key to unlocking growth and generating new jobs.

– The public sector cannot meet the global investment gap alone. Effective public and private sector partnership is a must. Nine out of 10 new jobs are created as a result of private investment.

– We proposed that G20 countries prepare national investment strategies to support their national growth strategies adopted last year. We have started to work on our national investment strategies and plan to have them submitted for the approval of at the Antalya Summit.

2015 is a critical year for shaping the global sustainable development agenda for the future.

We have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit in New York in September. It is important that the G20’s decisions and actions strengthen the work of the U.N. (SDGs will follow and expand on the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, due to expire at the end of 2015)

We aim to support the universal nature of the post 2015-development agenda. Our work on food security and nutrition, access to affordable and reliable energy to all, efforts to reduce the gender gap in female labour force participation, skills development and infrastructure are directly relevant to many of the proposed goals and targets.

The main topics of the G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting on May 8, the second in G20 history (first was in 2011), were developing sustainable food systems and the challenges of food loss and waste.

Some 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year. If we can reduce food losses and waste to zero, it would give us additional food to feed two billion people.

Our work on energy access in Sub Saharan Africa is another important element of our agenda. We are working in partnership with various African institutions.

Almost one-fifth of the global population still does not have access to electricity. Nearly 2.6 billion people lack access to modern cooking facilities. In Sub-Saharan Africa the problem is most acute. More than 620 million people, out of the region’s total population of 915 million, have no access to electricity.

A high-level conference with the participation of African leaders, investors, private sector and relevant international organisations back to back with the G20 Energy Ministers meeting is also planned. The G20 Energy Ministers Meeting on Oct. 2 will be a first in G20 history.

We are also working closely with the ILO and other international organisations on a range of employment and labour market outcomes.

Trade is an important part of our agenda. Representing 76 percent of world trade, G20 should lead by example in collective work to ensure an open and functioning multilateral trading system.

We are also working to strengthen outreach with engagement groups and non-members. Under our Presidency, G20 countries agreed to establish a new G20 engagement group: The Womens-20, to promote gender inclusive growth and enhance the role of women in business.

We also value direct outreach and dialogue with countries, regional groups and institutions. On Apr. 13, we convened in Washington the first Caribbean Region Dialogue with the G20 Development Working Group together with the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. This was an opportunity to deepen the G20-Caribbean relationship.

Overall, Turkey believes it has a responsibility to use its Presidency of the G20 as a positive influence regarding growth, sustainability and development in all areas. Independent of the G20, Turkey in the last decade has been more and more involved with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States.

It has developed its relations in the political, economic, commercial and development fields. Turkey has opened a large number of embassies in all the ACP countries and will continue to increase its contacts in the years to come for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Edited by Ramesh Jaura / Kitty Stapp

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

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‘Legal Friends’ Fight Gender Violence in Rural Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/legal-friends-fight-gender-violence-in-rural-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=legal-friends-fight-gender-violence-in-rural-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/legal-friends-fight-gender-violence-in-rural-india/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 16:59:42 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140979 Phulkali Bai’s family members physically tortured her for joining Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group in central India, but she refused to quit. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Phulkali Bai’s family members physically tortured her for joining Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group in central India, but she refused to quit. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BETUL, India, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

Mamta Bai, 36, distinctly remembers the first time the police came to her village: it was December 2014 and her neighbour, Purva Bai, had just been beaten unconscious by her alcoholic husband, prompting Mamta to make a distress call to the nearest station.

Once in the neighborhood, policemen pulled the abusive husband out of his home and asked the village women if they wanted him to be arrested.

“We want a life of dignity, free of violence. Nothing else matters more than that.” -- Ramvati Bai, a survivor of domestic violence and member of Narmada Mahila Sangh, a local rights group in central India
“Yes,” they answered in unison. But first, they wanted him to be tied to a pole in the middle of the village. “We wanted everyone to see what would happen to wife beaters from now on,” recalls Mamta Bai, a ‘Kanooni Sakhi’ (meaning ‘legal friend’ in Hindi) with the local rights group Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS).

Spread across 213 villages in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the organisation helps victims of domestic violence seek justice. But as the incident above indicates, these activists are not your average legal defenders.

Steeped in the harsh realities that govern life in India’s vast and lawless central states, the women know that the justice system here – from the police stations to the courts to the jails – are riddled with corruption, bureaucracy and entrenched patriarchal attitudes.

So they seek local solutions to their problems.

In this case, they weren’t content to let the offender spend a few nights in jail only to return to the same home and habits as before. So they went a step further, and extracted from Purva Bai’s husband a signed letter to the local police chief in which he vowed never to hurt his wife again.

“We wanted to teach him a lesson. The arrest and the humiliation of being tied to a pole in public view made him afraid,” says Santri Bai, another NMS member. “Now he knows, 42 of us [women] are ready to send him to the prison if he ever ill-treats his wife.”

Torture, burnings, deaths

Narmada Mahila Sangh operates in the Betul and Hoshangabad districts of Madhya Pradesh, a state that has an exceptionally high rate of gender-based violence, with 62 percent of women experiencing some form of abuse compared to the national average of 52 percent.

These crimes include molestation, marital rape, murder, beatings, dowry-related killings and, in the case of women suspected of practicing ‘witchcraft’, torture and burnings.

In 2013-14, the state registered 10,000 violent acts against women, 4,000 of which took place in Betul district.

Despite this grim reality, NMS was not founded to tackle gender-based crimes. It began in 2002 as a federation of women’s self-help groups focused on economic empowerment, with each unit running small savings schemes and generating collective loans to improve their livelihoods.

According to the Planning Commission of India, Madhya Pradesh has an extreme poverty rate of 35 percent, compared to India’s national average of 25 percent. This means that the state is home to some 30 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

But as the women began spending more time on trying to break the cycle of poverty, they faced backlash from their husbands and other community members.

Women members of Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group, meet in Borgaon village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women members of Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group, meet in Borgaon village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

“Women began to attend meetings, visit each other’s homes, discuss livelihood options and also take more interest in the affairs of their own family, such as their children’s education,” explains Asha Ayulkar, a resident of Chiklar village, not far from Betul town.

“This angered family members, especially men who saw it as women challenging their authority and breaking with tradition. They beat them as punishment.”

So in 2012, having grown its membership to over 9,000 members, NMS began a kind of ‘crusade’, launched with the belief that changing women’s economic situation could not be accomplished without simultaneously tackling deeply entrenched patriarchal values.

Collective education, community support

The first order of business was to secure some kind of training, since few women in these rural areas have a formal education let alone specialised legal expertise.

While the literacy rate for Madhya Pradesh is estimated to be 70 percent, it falls to just 60 percent for women – and even this gives no real indication of true literacy levels, since many girls drop out before completing secondary schooling.

With the help of civil society organisations like Pradan, a non-profit that works to empower marginalised communities, 30 members of NMS are now trained paralegals and they in turn run workshops for other women in the villages on a range of issues from understanding existing laws and policies, to learning how to conduct a basic investigation before approaching the police.

“We also learn of how to talk to a survivor and counsel her – a Kanooni Sakhi must meet her alone, lock eyes with her, and appear strong, yet sympathetic,” Ayulkar explains to IPS.

“Together we learn about the Indian Penal Code and its various articles relating to torture, assault, rape and dowry deaths.”

Although the 50-year-old only studied until the 6th grade, she is today the district’s most respected paralegal, and boasts a success rate of over 80 percent.

Cutting the red tape

The initiative, though small when compared to the scale of gender-based violence in this country of 1.2 billion people, is an example of how community justice can often be more effective than the centralised legal system.

Sexual and physical abuse is a grossly underreported offence throughout India, with a recent study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology revealing that only two percent of victims of gender-based crimes report the incident to the authorities.

This could be due to the dismal conviction rate, which the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) estimates at just 30 percent – meaning seven out of 10 perpetrators generally walk free.

Even those that are booked for a crime often spend a few years – sometimes even just a few days – in jail before rejoining the community.

Various Kanooni Sakhis (legal friends) tell IPS that attackers get off scot-free by bribing the police. Other times, authorities simply refuse to report complaints at all – activists recount incidents of women sitting for entire days at police stations attempting to file a First Information Report (FIR).

“So NMS trains women on how to lodge their cases, how to request public prosecutors when they can’t afford a lawyer and how to check the status of a complaint by using the Right to Information Act,” Mamta Bai tells IPS.

Lawyers from the Indian capital of New Delhi and Madhya Pradesh’s capital, Bhopal, have all participated in trainings schemes to strengthen the women’s group.

The result, experts say, is impressive.

“The women are now keeping records of each case,” Angana Gupta, assistant manager at the Mumbai-based L&T Finances – one of Pradan’s partner organisations – tells IPS. “They have files for each case with details of the evidence, the steps taken and the official responses. They are also using mobile phones and tablets to network with fellow gender activists.”

Social backlash

Learning the law was the easy step. The harder part has been – and will continue to be – changing social attitudes in these rural areas.

Take the case of Ramvati Bai, a tribal woman in Bakud village. A widowed mother of two, Ramvati was sexually harassed and assaulted by her father-in-law for three years. But when she finally gathered the courage to file a complaint, the police dismissed her, calling it a “family matter”.

It was only after her fellow NMS members intervened that the police registered a case and arrested the accused. But this angered Ramvati’s relations who ordered her to leave their home.

Phulkali Bai of Borgaon village was also thrown out of her home a few weeks ago after she filed a court case against her physically abusive in-laws.

Fortunately for both, NMS has offered steady support, helping them get back on their feet by finding work and building their own huts to live in.

But some, like 28-year-old Nirmala Bai, are not so lucky. She died in 2013, after her husband allegedly strangled her and set her body on fire. The police arrested the husband for abetment of suicide but then released him on parole.

Despite their determination to seek justice for the deceased girl, NMS had to abandon the case as the victim’s family members refused to came forward to bear witness.

They don’t let these setbacks get them down. They continue their micro-savings schemes and push ahead with the cases that need their help. Village Protection Committees identify threats or patterns and try to step in before tragedy occurs. If it does, NMS members help each other to keep moving.

“We want a life of dignity, free of violence,” Ramvati Bai tells IPS. “Nothing else matters more than that.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Ethical Fashion’ Champions Marginalised Artisans from Southhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ethical-fashion-champions-marginalised-artisans-from-south/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethical-fashion-champions-marginalised-artisans-from-south http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ethical-fashion-champions-marginalised-artisans-from-south/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 06:31:53 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140967 Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean (right) has been working with the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), using Haitian craftsmanship in areas such as embroidery and beadwork in her collections. Credit: ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative 5

Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean (right) has been working with the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), using Haitian craftsmanship in areas such as embroidery and beadwork in her collections. Credit: ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative 5

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

“Work is dignity,” says Simone Cipriani. “People want employment, not charity.”

With that in mind, Italian-born Cipriani founded a programme in 2009 called the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) that links some of the world’s top fashion talents to marginalised artisans – mostly women – in East and West Africa, Haiti and the West Bank.

Now a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Geneva-based EFI works with leading designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood to facilitate the development and production of “high-quality, ethical fashion items” from artisans living in low-income rural and urban areas.

The EFI says its aim is also to “enable Africa’s rising generation of fashion talent to forge environmentally sound, sustainable and fulfilling creative collaborations with local artisans.” Under its slogan “not charity, just work”, the Initiative advocates for a fairer global fashion industry.“We work with women who sometimes face discrimination in their communities, but by having a job, their position in society improves. They gain independence and respect, and in many situations they become the only breadwinner in their families” – Simone Cipriani, Ethical Fashion Initiative

This year, for the first time, the EFI is collaborating with the most important international trade fair for men’s fashion, Pitti Immagine Uomo, to host designers who represent four African countries.

Taking place June 16 to 19 in Florence, Italy, the fair will present a special edition of its Guest Nation Project, in which a particular area is designated for the “rising stars” of fashion from various countries, according to Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti.

Napoleone said that the African designers in this year’s Guest Nation give priority to manufacturing in their home countries, helping to reduce poverty, and that they are already known on the international market.

The stylists will put on a runway show, highlighting their men’s collections, in a special event titled ‘Constellation Africa’. The brands – Dent de Man, MaXhosa by Laduma, Orange Culture and Projecto Mental – have designers who represent Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, Nigeria and Angola, and were selected as part of the African Fashion Designer competition launched by the EFI last December.

“This is where our global society is going: interconnectedness. Global and local dimensions brought together through fashion,” said Cipriani.

Market analysts expect the global value of the apparel retail industry to rise about 20 percent from 2014 levels to reach some 1,500 billion dollars in 2017. With such high volumes, the various sectors of the industry could be an increasing source of employment in many regions, from design to garment-making to sales.

But over the past several years, there has been controversy about the apparent exclusion of fashion designers and models of African descent in high-profile ‘Fashion Weeks’ and other international events

Tansy E. Hoskins, author of a polemical book published last year titled Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion, has a whole chapter devoted to the question “Is Fashion Racist?”

She says that several decades after a renowned fashion magazine had its first black model on the cover, “all-white catwalks, all-white advertising campaigns and all-white fashion shoots are still the norm”.

Simone Cipriani, founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI). Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Simone Cipriani, founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI). Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

The Ethical Fashion Initiative is primarily concerned with poverty reduction and ethical treatment of artisans, but Cipriani acknowledges that racism is an issue and that poverty can be linked to ethnicity as well as gender.

Still, the fashion industry does have companies that try to adhere to ethical standards, including diversity, working conditions and environmental sustainability; and 30 international brands have signed on to the EFI project. But not every company is a good fit.

“We try to work almost exclusively with brands that have a clear scheme on responsible business and social engagement, otherwise there’s always the risk of being used and having to clean up after somebody else,” Cipriani told IPS in an interview, during a trip to Paris to meet with designers.

“We’ve had our troubles and have had to work through a long learning curve”, he added. “We also tried to work with big distributors and realised it wasn’t possible for what we do, so here we are.”

Groups such as the EFI and activists like Hoskins say that their major concern is how to make the fashion industry fairer, particularly with decent labour conditions for workers everywhere.

Two years ago in Bangladesh, for instance, more than 1,100 workers died and 2,500 were injured when a factory building collapsed after safety warnings were ignored. The workers made clothing for brands including Benetton, which only this year announced that it would contribute to a compensation fund for the victims.

That agreement followed a campaign in which one million people signed an online petition calling for the company to take proper action.

“What happened in Bangladesh was a horror, and there are many situations in which exactly the same horror can occur,” Cipriani said. “The first thing about responsibility should always be people. Dignified working conditions for people.”

He said that many artisans working in the fashion industry’s supply chain also do not earn enough to live on. “They don’t get the remuneration for their work that allows them to have a dignified life,” he told IPS. “Many of them are paid in such a way that they have to live at the margin.”

In Haiti, which is known for its artistry as well as its poverty, activists say that linking local artisans with international designers can and have made some impact. The Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean has been working with EFI, using Haitian craftsmanship in areas such as embroidery and beadwork in her collections, for example. She also employs textiles made in Africa.

Jean has been an EFI “partner” since 2013 and she sources several elements of her designs through its projects, Cipriani said. The collaboration started with a visit to Burkina Faso – one of the largest producers of cotton in Africa with an important tradition of hand-weaving – where the designer saw the possibilities of “working with these ethically produced textiles”. She incorporated them as a key feature of her women’s and men’s ready-to-wear collections.

Last year, she also launched a new range of bags, produced in Kenya with fabric from Burkina Faso and Mali and vegetable-tanned leather from Kenya, “making each bag a pan-African product,” says the EFI.

In Kenya, British designers McCartney (who declined to be interviewed) and Westwood have placed several orders for fashion items, and the EFI has carried out “Impact Assessment” studies to evaluate compliance with fair labour standards “and the impact the orders had on people and the communities they live in.”

“We work with women who sometimes face discrimination in their communities, but by having a job, their position in society improves,” Cipriani told IPS. “They gain independence and respect, and in many situations they become the only breadwinner in their families.”

The Ethical Fashion Initiative has testimonials from artisans about the improvement in their lives from the income they received through the orders, with several workers detailing their new ability to pay rent and school fees, among other developments.

Hoskins says that these steps are important, but that the fashion industry cannot be fully transformed without massive, collective action. “Ethical fashion has become a catch-all phrase encompassing issues such as environmental toxicity, labour rights, air miles, animal cruelty and product sustainability,” she argues.

“After 20 or so years and despite some innovative initiatives, it holds an ‘exceptionally low market share’ at just over 1 percent of the overall apparel market.”

In an interview, she said that asking whether fashion can ever be ethical is like asking “can capitalism ever be ethical?”

“For me the answer is ‘no’ because it’s based on exploitation, it’s based on competition, and above all it’s based on profit, and that’s what in the fashion industry drives wages down, drives environmental standards down and down and down,” she told IPS.

“There are small companies doing things differently but they’re producing maybe a few thousand units every year. The fashion industry produces billions and billions of units every single year.”

Hoskins also asked the question: “Why is it not the case that all products are ethically made?”

But reform evidently takes time. With the Pitti trade fair in Italy now collaborating with EFI, the “ethical fashion” movement may get a boost. It is also up to consumers to make the right choices, activists say.

“Consumers must demand change. Consumers can’t be too docile,” says Cipriani.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Zimbabwean Women Weave Their Own Beautiful Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 17:49:17 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140954 Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
LUPANE, Zimbabwe, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

Seventy-seven-year-old Grace Ngwenya has an eye for detail. You will never catch her squinting as she effortlessly weaves ilala palm fronds into beautiful baskets.

“Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.” -- Lisina Moyo, a member of the Lupane Women's Centre (LWC)
Her actions are swift and methodical as she twirls, straightens and tugs the long strands into a fine stitch. Periodically she pauses to dip the last three fingers of her right hand into a shallow tin of water that sits beside her, to wet the fibres and make them pliable.

Slowly, under the deft motion of her hands, a basket takes shape. She insists on attention to “detail, neatness and creativity.” Once she has decided on the shape and colour of her product, she will work for seven days straight to complete the task.

When she’s done, the basket will be inspected for quality, carefully packed up, and shipped off to its buyer who could be anywhere in the world from Germany to the United States. Her efforts earn her about 50 dollars a month – a small fortune in a place where women once counted it a blessing to earn even a few dollars in the course of several weeks.

Ngwenya lives in Shabula village in Ward 15 of Zimbabwe’s arid Lupane District, located in the Matabeleland North Province that occupies the western-most region of the country, 170 km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.

Home to about 90,000 people, this area is prone to droughts and has a harsh history of hunger.

Today, rural women are putting Lupane District on the map with an innovative basket-weaving enterprise that is earning them a decent wage, preserving an indigenous skill and enabling them to erect a barrier against extreme weather events by investing the profits of their creativity into sustainable farming.

Perfecting skills, preserving arts

It started small, when a group of women came together in 1997 to produce baskets and other crafts from local forest products and sell them along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road, a major tourist route.

In 2004, with the help of a Peace Corp volunteer, they establised the Lupane Women’s Centre (LWC) in order to streamline their production. At the time they had just 14 registered members.

A decade later they have grown their ranks to 3,638 members hailing from 28 wards in the district. Average earnings have increased from one dollar to 50 dollars a month, and this past May one of their number earned 700 dollars from the sale of her crafts.

For a community that was barely able to put three square meals on the table every day, this is a huge step towards a more wholesome life.

“Weaving has transformed my life, even in my old age,” Ngwenya tells IPS, pointing to a half-built residence not far from where she sits, busily threading away. In this impoverished village, the emerging two-roomed brick house is a veritable super-structure.

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“This year sales have been slow,” she says, “but God willing, my house should be complete by next year. I have already bought the windows and I will plaster and paint it myself.”

In addition to a dwelling place, her income has helped her buy a goat and erect a fence around her ‘keyhole’ garden, a popular farming method all across the African continent involving a keyhole-shaped vegetable bed with an active compost pile at its centre that feeds crops in the walled-in plot.

At a weaving competition last year she even won an ox-drawn plough and recently sunk more of her savings into the purchase of a heifer and some simple farm tools.

Considering that she joined the collective during a drought year back in 2008, she is forever grateful for her newfound wellbeing. And it is not just her own life that has changed.

Barely a stone’s throw away is the homestead of her sister Gladys, and her husband, Misheck Ngwenya. This cluster of huts is distinguished by solar lights attached to their thatched roofs, a luxury secured with the boons of Gladys’ basket sales.

“In the past I would go to my neighbours to ask for sugar,” Gladys Ngwenya recalls. “Not anymore.”

She tells IPS the women’s centre has helped her perfect her art by improving the dimensions and measurements of her craft work.

Beating hunger with baskets

It is no coincidence that these entrepreneurs sprang from the dry soil of Lupane District. The area is a farmer’s nightmare, yielding only drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and finger millet and receiving inadequate rainfall – just 450-600 mm annually – to allow extensive maize cropping.

When the weather is bad, with long, dry spells, rural communities suffer badly.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Extension Services indicate that Lupane experiences annual food shortages. In 2008, it had a food production deficit of more than 10,000 metric tonnes of grain, producing just over 3,000 tonnes of cereal against an estimated annual requirement of 13,900 metric tonnes.

The situation has not changed seven years later. In 2015, scores of people are at risk of hunger, with government data suggesting that only half of the region’s required 10,900 metric tonnes will be produced this year.

Families who practice subsistence agriculture will be forced to purchase food to make up for lower harvests, a situation that could leave many with no food at all given that income-generating opportunities are scarce.

Zimbabwe is this year importing 700,000 tonnes of the staple maize grain to cover a deficit following another bad agricultural season. The country requires 1.8 million tonnes of maize annually.

The Women’s Centre in Lupane is now tackling these twin problems – hunger and livelihoods – by helping craftswomen become breadwinners.

Hildegard Mufukare, who manages the Centre, tells IPS that putting women at the head of the household has created “peace in the home.”

“Women have bought assets from farm implements to cattle, they have taken up agricultural activities and are working together with the men to sustain their families.”

Applying a communal, grassroots approach to its management and upkeep, members contribute five dollars annually towards operational costs, accounting for 31 percent of the Centre’s required financing.

The remaining 59 percent comes from donors, including patron backers like the Liechtenstein Development Services (LED), but members say they plan to cultivate greater self-sufficiency by establishing and running a restaurant, conference centre and farm which will serve the dual purpose of providing more food and skills to the community.

As they grow their markets overseas, securing additional funding will not be difficult. Already members courier their wares to clients in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Denmark.

Revenue from craft sales tripled over a two-year period, going from 10,000 dollars in 2012 to 32,000 dollars in 2014. The members keep the bulk of the profits while the Centre retains 15 percent to cover administration fees and government taxes.

The baskets are multi-functional, doubling up as waste bins or fruit bowls. The women are now toying with the idea of turning them into biodegradable coffins – to ensure sustainability even in their deaths.

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

They are unsure how such an idea will be received, but their bold proposal suggests a commitment to holistic living that goes beyond incomes or nutrition.

Preparing for a changing climate

Community-led buffers against the horrors of global warming are desperately needed in Zimbabwe, a country of 14.5 million that faces a host of climate risks from floods to droughts.

Unable to access adequate international climate finance, the country was forced to slice its environment ministry’s budget from 93 million in 2014 to 52 million this year.

The funding crunch has crippled the country’s ability to respond to natural disasters, with the meteorological services department – responsible for forecasts and early warnings – also experiencing budget cuts.

This means that when calamity strikes, remote communities and especially rural women will be left to fend for themselves, a reality that the women of Lupane are more than prepared to deal with.

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three who joined the cooperative in 2008, says that the simple act of weaving baskets has helped her build a lifeline for times of crisis.

She has used her savings to buy a goat, and is also maintaining a chicken farm and a thriving vegetable garden. When the weather is fine, the garden feeds her family. If it takes a turn for the worse, she simply dips into her surplus stores to tide her over until the land yields food again.

“I joined the centre even though I didn’t know how to weave,” she tells IPS. Her husband is unemployed, but she is doing well enough to support them both.

She and three other women have created their own micro-savings scheme, pooling five dollars of their monthly income into a rotational pool of 20 dollars that each enjoys on a quarterly basis.

Other groups of women have taken advantage of skills training at the Centre and taken up potato farming, bee keeping, candle making, and cattle rearing. Rearing indigenous chickens is also hugely popular activity as an additional source of revenue, and nutrition.

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Others have turned to small-scale farming so they don’t have to rely on central supply chains for their food. According to Lisina Moyo, who joined the Centre in 2012, keyhole gardens “should be a part of every home” – earning 15 dollars a month from her personal vegetable patch has helped her pay her children’s school fees and contribute to a savings club that keeps her afloat during harsh seasons.

Saving the forests

Perhaps more importantly, the thousands of women who comprise the cooperative’s membership are natural caretakers of forests, having practiced sustainable harvesting of forest products for years.

The art of basket-weaving from both ilala palm and sisal, a species of the Agave plant found in Zimbabwe’s forests whose tough fibres make strong rope and twine, has been passed down for generations.

Furthermore, local communities have traditionally relied on surrounding forests for medicines, timber, fuel and fruits, so they have a vested interest in protecting these rich zones of biodiversity.

Considering the country lost an estimated 327,000 hectares of forests annually between 1990 and 2010, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), empowering guardians of Zimbabwe’s remaining forested areas is crucial.

With an estimated 66,250 timber merchants operating throughout the country, as well as millions of rural families relying on forests for fuel, deforestation will be a defining issue for Zimbabwe in the coming decade.

But here again, the women of Lupane are planning for the worst, creating small plantations of ilala palms to ensure propagation of the species, even in the face of rapid destruction of its natural habitat.

Their work is reinforcing the land around them, and breathing life into the women themselves.

As Moyo tells IPS: “Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Jamaican Gov’t Sees IMF Successes but No Benefits for the Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/jamaican-govt-sees-imf-successes-but-no-benefits-for-the-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jamaican-govt-sees-imf-successes-but-no-benefits-for-the-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/jamaican-govt-sees-imf-successes-but-no-benefits-for-the-poor/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 18:13:34 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140933 Seventy-year old Elise Young’s small box of mixed sweets and biscuits and the plastic bucket containing some ice and a handful of drinks is hardly enough to pay the 18-dollar electricity bill each month and buy food. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Seventy-year old Elise Young’s small box of mixed sweets and biscuits and the plastic bucket containing some ice and a handful of drinks is hardly enough to pay the 18-dollar electricity bill each month and buy food. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

For Jamaicans like Roxan Brown, the Caribbean nation’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) successes don’t mean a thing. Seven consecutive tests have been passed but still, the mother of two can’t find work and relies instead on the kindness of friends and family.

The 32-year-old has been in several government-sponsored training programmes and has even filed for help under the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), a safety net set up to assist the poor. But she fails to qualify and can’t understand why.In the long history of Jamaica's on-again off-again relationship with the IMF, it is the poorest of this nation’s 2.8 million people who suffer the heaviest burden. With most earnings going to pay loans, there is nothing left for government assistance.

The single mother spends each day making phone calls, sending messages and making as many trips as she can afford, hopeful that one will result in a job. Roxan is desperate to help her son who graduated high school last year and has qualified for college. Her daughter is in secondary school and is preparing to sit exams.

Several miles away in the south coast village of Denbigh, the two elderly women sitting outside the May Pen Health Centre tell their stories of hardship. Five days a week, they scratch out a meagre living selling a few sweets, biscuits, some bottled water, drinks and fruits to make ends meet. Neither have pensions and none qualify for even the basic of government assistance under PATH.

Seventy-year old Elise Young’s small box of mixed sweets and biscuits and the plastic bucket containing some ice and a handful of drinks is hardy enough to pay the 18-dollar electricity bill each month and buy food.

“It’s very rough but I still have to live,” she said, noting that her daughter, who generally helps out with a few dollars a week, is now unemployed.

Next to her sits Iona Samuels, an on-again-off again vendor who sells a few dozen oranges and bananas to make ends meet. Iona is lucky: she lives rent-free, house-sitting for a friend who lives in Canada. Her on-again off-again business is due to the many times she is unable to restock the plastic crates that serve as her stall because she uses all the cash to buy food and pay water and light bills.

“Sometime I buy two dozen oranges and two dozen bananas and I only sell half. Sometimes I don’t make a profit because I have to sell them for what I pay for them and I have to eat and pay the bills,” she explains.

Iona admits that advancing age has slowed her ability to do more strenuous work. She is concerned that government has no programmes for  “the poor and vulnerable” people like her.

The good fortune that allows Iona to live rent-free also goes against her in her quest for government assistance with her daily expenses.

“I live in a house that is fully furnished, so I am unable to qualify for anything. There is no consideration that the house is not mine. It is my friend’s house. There is a gas stove, and a television so I don’t qualify for help,” Iona complains.

Iona Samuels (left) and her friend Pearl. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Iona Samuels (left) and her friend Pearl. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

In the long history of Jamaica’s on-again off-again relationship with the IMF, it is the poorest of this nation’s 2.8 million people who suffer the heaviest burden. With most earnings going to pay loans, there is nothing left for government assistance.

Media reports cite information from the U.S.-based Centre for Economic Policy and Research, which states that three years into its latest IMF programming, Jamaica’s economy is suffocating, struggling to reach its current quarterly growth rate of between 0.1 and 0.5 percent.

After 20 years of improvement to the country’s poverty rate, the number of Jamaicans living below the poverty line has ballooned in recent years from 9.9 percent in 2007, to 12.3 in 2008, 16.5 percent in 2009 and 19.9 percent in 2012. And if the 2014 research by the local Adventist Church is correct, today there are 1.1 million Jamaicans living in poverty.

The most pressing problem is the country’s debt, which the government readily admits has severely hampered its economic growth. According to the World Bank website, Jamaica’s debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio, estimated at 140 percent at the end of March 2015, is among the highest in the developing world.

For the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration that won the 2011 general elections on a ticket of being a friend of the poor, there is not much caring left, at least not under the IMF. The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reports that while the IMF programme is necessary, it is still not sufficient to unlock the kind of growth necessary to boost the economy and grow jobs.

According to the PIOJ,  “Economic recovery remains fragile” even as the country successfully completed the IMF assessments with improvements in most macro-economic indicators and outlook for growth.

The World Bank states on its website that, “For decades, Jamaica has struggled with low growth, high public debt and many external shocks that further weakened the economy. Over the last 30 years real per capita GDP increased at an average of just one percent per year, making Jamaica one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world.”

Simply put, Jamaica continues to spend far more than it earns. But while individual sectors continue to show improvements, manufacturers and the international community blame the cost of fuel, high energy costs and crime as impediments to growth.

Last year, Jamaica paid the IMF over 136 million dollars more than it received, and the country still owes the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank over 650 million dollars through 2018. Even so, government continues to struggle to maintain social gains such as free healthcare and free primary and secondary education.

There are those who believe government is not doing enough to create jobs and that the available jobs are going to government supporters. There are those who blame the private sector, and they in turn point to a depreciating dollar, high cost of fuel and high-energy costs. And of course there is crime.

With unemployment rate at an alarming 14.2 percent and youth unemployment estimated at twice the national rate, things are not looking good for Roxan, who falls into that category.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sri Lankan Women Stymied by Archaic Job Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:40:44 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140833 The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MIRIGAMA, Sri Lanka , May 28 2015 (IPS)

Wathsala Marasinghe, a 33-year-old hailing from the town of Mirigama, just 50 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, once had high hopes that the progressive education and employment policies of this South Asian island nation would work in her favour. Today, she feels differently, believing that “an evil system” has let her down.

As a young girl, she attended one of the best schools in the area and was selected to attend a state university. “I went there with so much hope,” she tells IPS – but apparently with little knowledge of her true job prospects.

"Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market." -- Anushka Wijesinha, a consultant to Sri Lankan government ministries
As an undergraduate she studied Buddhism and her native tongue, Sinhala. Her plan was to secure a government job, possibly in teaching or in the public service, and preferably close to home.

But when it came time to job-hunt, she found herself coming up against one wall after another.

“I kept applying and going for interviews but never got a job except as a secretary at a small factory,” she says.

This post did not come close to her employment aspirations, and she was forced to quit after a month. “The salary was 8,000 rupees (about 59 dollars) – I had to spend half of that on traveling,” she explains. The average monthly income in Sri Lanka is about 300 dollars.

She continued to apply, but each time she found herself sitting among a crowd of applicants that seemed to get younger and younger.

The stark reality of the situation has now become clear to her, and she has given up going for interviews altogether, embarrassed to be in the company of other hopefuls who “look like my daughters.”

Marasinghe’s conundrum is not rare in Sri Lanka, despite the country’s purported efforts to achieve targets on gender equality and visible signs of progress on paper.

In 2012, the Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Sri Lanka 39th out of 135 countries surveyed, an unsurprisingly strong placement given that the country of 20 million people has a female adult literacy rate of 90 percent. This rises to 99 percent for female youth in the 15-24 bracket.

Furthermore, girls outnumber their male counterparts at the secondary level, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum.

However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

Government labour statistics indicate that 64.5 percent of the 8.8 million economically active people in Sri Lanka are men, while just 35.5 percent are women. Of the economically inactive population, just 25.4 percent are men, and 74.6 percent are women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to government data, only 2.9 percent of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2 percent. The national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.

The same government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations.

“The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males,” said the latest labour force survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department.

Experts say there are a multitude of structural and social reasons behind the high rate of female unemployment.

For starters while nearly three in four males enter the job market, it is the reverse for women, with just 35 percent of working-age females actually seeking employment, resulting in a skewed supply chain.

Economist Anushka Wijesinha, who works as a consultant to international organisations, says that women who seek higher education also have higher job aspirations, but the job market has not grown fast enough to cater to such needs.

“Aspirations are shifting away from working in the industrial sector as before – more women are keen to work in services like retail […] but jobs in this sector haven’t grown fast enough to cater to the changing aspirations. So we are seeing ‘queuing’, women waiting for those jobs and not getting them,” he tells IPS.

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, shares that analysis, but believes that female unemployment levels should be adjusted to include the roughly 600,000 Sri Lankan women working overseas, the bulk as domestic workers.

He is also an advocate of placing an economical value on women who are fully occupied with looking after households.

Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9 percent, while the services sector employs around 42 percent of women, while industries employ around 24 percent.

There are other reasons why women stay away from work. Nayana Siriwardena, a 35-year-old mother of two, used to work till she had her first child. After the government-stipulated three months’ maternity leave ran out, she had to return to work.

“What I found problematic was that the workplace could not be flexible enough to address my situation,” she said.

She worked in bookkeeping and tried to impress upon her employers that some of the work could be done from a remote location.

“But they did not understand that, which I found surprising because the company was quite progressive in other areas and also because young mothers are not a rare occurrence in any establishment.”

Wijesinha feels that maternal benefits themselves, which legally must be provided for three months, can act as a deterrent to some companies.

“Maternal benefits have to be paid in full by the employer. This means that employers may be deterred [from] hiring young women, because they know they likely have to pay maternal benefits,” he said.

Sarvananthan says that security for women – at the work place, during the commute, and for their offspring – could play a huge role in changing employment figures.

“In order to boost labour force participation by women, a carrot-and-stick approach could be pursued by the state. Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market,” he argues.

He also believes the government should ink an equal opportunities law that legally undermines discriminatory policies. Currently, the constitution stipulates that no one should be discriminated based on sex, but there is no law that provides for equal pay for the same work.

Having more women in the workplace is not only a current problem but could also be a future crisis, as Sri Lanka’s working population ages. Currently, 17 percent of the population is above the age of 55, while 25 percent is below 15 years, meaning only around 50 percent are believed to be in the working age group.

“Given that women comprise just over half of the population, and our working age population peak is beginning to wane, it is critical that we have maximum participation from women in the workforce,” Wijesinha states.

Many believe a higher portion of women in decision-making positions could right these imbalances.

Women’s political representation remains low, with less than 6.5 percent women in parliament, less than six percent in provincial councils, and fewer than two percent in local government.

As the country moves towards elections, activists and rights groups are calling for a 30 percent quota for women in the 20th amendment to the constitution.

If this goal is realised, it could spell change for people like Marasinghe, who, after a decade of searching for her elusive dream job, has all but given up hope.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Ethiopia’s First Film at Cannes Gives Moving View of Childhood, Genderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:11:45 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140769 A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

By A. D. McKenzie
CANNES, May 22 2015 (IPS)

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape. These are the three stars of Lamb, a poignant film directed by 36-year-old Yared Zeleke and Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.

The film was warmly received at its premiere this week, with the director and cast receiving applause. It is slated for general French release later this year, Zeleke said.“I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother ... I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me” – Yared Zeleke, director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first film at Cannes

Shot in the highlands and forests of northern and central Ethiopia, Lamb tells the story of nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) and his beloved pet, a sheep named Chuni. The animal follows Ephraim around like a devoted dog, and plays the role of best friend, albeit one who can only say “ba-ah”.

When the film begins, we learn that Ephraim has lost his mother in an ongoing famine and, in order to survive, his father has decided to take him to stay with relatives in a remote but greener region of their homeland, an area of intense beauty but increasing poverty. Ephraim will have to stay there while his father seeks work in the city, not knowing when he can return.

The relatives are an intriguing bunch. There’s the strict farmer uncle who thinks Ephraim is too girly (the boy likes to cook), his wife who’s overworked and worried about her small, sick child, a matriarchal great aunt who tries to keep the family in line with a whip, and an older girl cousin – Tsion – who spends her time reading and with whom Ephraim eventually bonds.

Soon after arriving in their midst, Ephraim is told by his uncle that he will have to learn what boys do: he will have to slaughter his pet sheep for an upcoming traditional feast.

The news pushes Ephraim to start devising ways to save Chuni, and that forms the bulk of the storyline, while the film subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Throughout it all, the magnificent rolling hills are there, watching.

We learn in passing that Ephraim is half-Jewish through his mother, whom the relatives refer to as “Falasha people”; but Zeleke says that this is not at all meant to signal division, because Ethiopians generally do not identify themselves by religious affiliation. In fact, the Christian relatives all seem to have admired the mother.

They attribute Ephraim’s skill at cooking to her teaching, and some of the most moving moments are centred on food – feeding and being fed by a loved one.

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of ‘Lamb’, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

The film is dedicated to the director’s grandmother, and another striking element is how sympathetically women are portrayed, although Zeleke told IPS that this was probably done more “semi-consciously” than on purpose.

“A lot of the writing process for me is intuitive,” he said in an interview. “But I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother whom I’m named after and who was known for her great storytelling. I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me.”

In Lamb, Tsion – played by the smouldering Kidist Siyum – is shown as smart and knowledgeable, but her love of reading is considered useless by the family because it does not get the back-breaking household chores done. Ephraim’s ability to cook and sell samosas on the market is seen as more helpful, drawing attention to some of the burdens of childhood in poor countries.

Tsion is eventually pushed to make a sad choice, leaving Ephraim more alone than ever, but the film ends on an upbeat note, with the possibility of acceptance. A simple and unforeseen act of kindness towards Ephraim by Tsion’s abandoned suitor might trigger most viewers’ tears.

As a first feature, Lamb is a glowing success for Zeleke, who grew up in central Addis Ababa and went on to study film-making at New York University, after a first degree in natural resource management and an attempt at a Master’s in agri-economics at a Norwegian university.

“I always wanted to work with Ethiopian farmers, and to tackle the biggest issue facing our country, but in the end, I made up a film about them instead,” he told IPS.

With his credible story and the feel of authenticity, the director shows that he knows his culture and people, while the loving attention to the landscape and the tight focus on his characters also reveals confidence and vision.

Members of the cast equally turn in a fine performance.  Amare Rediat is affecting and sincere as Ephraim, with his huge expressive eyes, and Siyum has a coiled energy that conveys the frustration of a bright girl expected to marry and “breed” quickly because that is her only fate.

Produced by Slum Kid Films – an Ethiopia-based company that Zeleke co-founded with Ghanaian producer Ama Ampadu and which works to support the country’s film sector – Lamb was shown in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard category. This section highlights daring, innovative, off-beat works, and Zeleke’s film certainly fits the bill.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*   This article is published in association with Southern World Arts News (SWAN).

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The U.N. at 70: Time to Prioritise Human Rights for All, for Current and Future Generationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 13:23:26 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140725 Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Seventy years ago, with the founding of the United Nations, all nations reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The commitment to fundamental human rights that was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lives on today in many other treaties and agreements, including the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.There is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

The Programme of Action (PoA) , endorsed by 179 governments, articulated a bold new vision about the relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

And it was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are the foundation for economic and social development.

The PoA is also rooted in principles of human rights and respect for national sovereignty and various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is also based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the number of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Since it began operations 46 years ago, and guided by the PoA since 1994, the United Nations Population Fund has promoted dignity and individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights encompass freedoms and entitlements involving civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to decide the number and spacing of children is integral to reproductive rights and to other basic human rights, including the right to health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to liberty and the security of person.

Reproductive rights rest not only on the recognition of the right of couples and individuals to plan their families, but also on the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

The impact of the PoA has been nothing short of revolutionary for the hundreds of millions of women who have over the past 21 years gained the power and the means to avoid or delay a pregnancy.

The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, have been extraordinary. Millions more women have become empowered to have fewer children and to start their families later in life, giving them the opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and rise out of poverty.

And now there is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

Recent research shows that investments in the human capital of young people, partly by ensuring their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, can help nations with large youth populations realize a demographic dividend.

The dividend can help lift millions of people out of poverty and bolster economic growth and national development. If sub-Saharan Africa realized a demographic dividend on a scale realized by East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, the region could experience an economic miracle of its own.

The principles of equality, inalienable rights, and dignity embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Programme of Action are relevant today, as the international community prepares to launch a 15-year global sustainable development initiative that builds on and advances the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close later this year.

The new Post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Agenda is founded on principles of equality, rights and dignity.

Upholding these principles and achieving each of the proposed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals require upholding reproductive rights and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Achieving the proposed goal to ensure healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, for example, depends in part on whether individuals have the power and the means to prevent unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.

Human rights have guided the United Nations along the path to sustainability since the Organisation’s inception in 1945. Rights, including reproductive rights, have guided UNFPA along that same path for decades.

As we observe the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and look forward to the post-2015 development agenda, we must prioritise the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity for every person, for current and future generations, to create the future we want.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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African Women Mayors Join Forces to Fight for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:45:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140678 Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 18 2015 (IPS)

When some 40,000 delegates, including dozens of heads of state, descend on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year, a group of African women mayors plan to be there and make their voices heard on a range of issues, including electrification.

The mayors, representing both small and big towns on the continent, are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy.

“In my commune, only one-fifth of the people have access to electricity, and this of course hampers development,” Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal in Cameroon, told a recent meeting of women mayors in Paris.“As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope” – Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal, Cameroon

Mbock Mioumnde was one of 18 women mayors at last month’s meeting, hosted by Paris mayor Anne Hildalgo and France’s former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who now heads the Fondation Énergies pour l’Afrique (Energy for Africa Foundation).

Organisers said the meeting was called to highlight Africa’s energy challenges in the run-up to COP 21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and which has the French political class scrambling to show its environmental credentials.

Mbock Mioumnde told IPS in an interview that clean, renewable energy was a priority for Africa, and that political leaders were looking at various means of electrification including hydropower and photovoltaic energy and, but not necessarily, wind power – a feature in many parts of France.

“We plan to maintain this contact and this network of women mayors to see what we can accomplish,” said Mbock Mioumnde. “As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope.”

Hidalgo, the first woman to hold the office of Paris mayor, said she wanted to support the African representatives’ appeal for “sustainable electrification”, considering that two-thirds of Africa’s population, “particularly the most vulnerable, don’t have access to electricity.”

Currently president of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), Hidalgo said it was essential to find ways to speed up electrification in Africa, using clean technology that respects the environment and the health of citizens.

The mayors meeting in Paris in April also called for the creation of an “African agency devoted to this issue” that would be in charge of implementing the complete electrification of the continent by 2025.

Present at the conference were several representatives of France’s big energy companies such as GDF Suez – an indication that France sees a continued business angle for itself – but the gathering also attracted NGOs which have been working independently to set up solar-power installations in various African countries.

“I’m happy that women are organising on this issue. We need solidarity,” said Hidalgo, who has been urging Paris residents to become involved in climate action, in a city that has come late to environmental awareness, especially compared with many German and Swiss towns.

“The Climate Change Conference is a decisive summit for the planet’s leaders and decision-makers to reach an agreement,” Hidalgo stressed.

Climate change issues have an undeniable gender component because women are especially affected by lack of access to clean sources of energy.

Ethiopian-born, Kenya-based scientist Dr Segenet Kelemu, who was a winner of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, spoke for example of growing up in a rural village in Ethiopia with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.

“I went out to collect firewood, to fetch water and to take farm produce to market. Somehow, all the back-breaking tasks in Africa are reserved for women and children,” she told a reporter.

This gender component was also raised at a meeting May 7-8 in Addis Ababa, where leaders of a dozen African countries agreed on 12 recommendations to improve the regional response to climate change.

The recommendations included increasing local technological research and development; reinforcing infrastructure for renewable energy, transportation and water; and “mainstreaming gender-responsive climate change actions”.

The meeting was part of a series of ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)’ workshops being convened though June 2015 in Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East. The CVF was established to offer a South-South cooperation platform for vulnerable countries to deal with issues of climate change.

In Paris, Hidalgo’s approach includes gathering as many stakeholders as possible together to reach consensus before the U.N. summit. With Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome, Italy, she also invited mayors of the “capitals and big towns” of the 28 member states of the European Union to a gathering in March.

The mayors, representing some 60 million inhabitants, stressed that the “fight against climate change is a priority for our towns and the well-being of our citizens.”

Hidalgo’s office is now working on a project to have 1,000 mayors from around the world present at COP 21, a spokesperson told IPS. The stakes are high because the French government wants the summit to be a success, with a new global agreement on combating climate change.

Borloo, who was environment minister in the administration of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, used to advocate for France’s “climate justice” proposal, aimed at giving financial aid to poor countries to combat climate change.

Calling for a “climate justice plan” to allow poor countries to “adapt, achieve growth, get out of poverty and have access to energy,” Borloo was a key French player at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that conference ended in disarray. The question now is: will a greater involvement of women leaders and mayors make COP 21 a success?

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Latin America’s Social Policies Have Given Women a Boosthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 23:41:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140512 The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Although they do not specifically target women, social policies like family allowances and pensions have improved the lives of women in Latin America, the region that has made the biggest strides so far this century in terms of gender equality, although there is still a long way to go.

Luiza Carvalho of Brazil, U.N. Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, said that can be seen in each report by her agency.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress,” Carvalho said in an interview with IPS during the global conference “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015”, held in the Argentine capital from Wednesday May 6 to Friday May 8.

The advances made in Latin America, Carvalho said, “were not so much a result of economic policies; on the contrary, they were the result of social policies, which although not necessarily specifically aimed at women, ended up benefiting them a great deal, directly and indirectly.”“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality. -- Luiza Carvalho

Latin America’s successful cash transfer programmes include Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance, Ecuador’s Human Development Bonus and Mexico’s Prospera.

Other measures that have had a positive impact were the improvement of the minimum wage, which did not include a gender perspective but benefited women, who are disproportionately paid low wages. That bolstered their purchasing power and as a result their decision-making capacity and “their control over some domestic matters,” Carvalho said.

The same was true of initiatives aimed at protecting informal sector workers, and the creation of non-contributory pensions, among which Carvalho mentioned those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.

As a result of the various cash transfer programmes, “there is no doubt that extreme poverty was reduced throughout Latin America,” she said. “With improved buying power, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of non-contributory pensions there was also a significant modification in gender inequality.”

But she argued that these programmes have a handicap: they put an emphasis on the responsibility of women as mothers.

“The conditions set are for women,” she said. “Women have to help children stay in school, women have to get their children vaccinated. And those conditions do not reinforce a more responsible role for men in child-rearing.”

“If we want to go beyond these achievements, policies should be focalised,” said Jessica Faieta, the U.N. Development Programme’s regional director, referring to what she called “second-generation social policies.”

“These should be policies directly targeting the inclusion of women in development gains, which have not reached everyone,” Faieta told IPS.

She said women – especially rural, indigenous and black women – stood out among the “excluded groups”.

Faieta stressed that inclusion of women has a positive impact on poverty eradication.

For her part, Carvalho described it as a “virtuous circle” of development.

Faieta said: “It has been proven that including women brings broader returns. Employing more women and paying them more equal wages has benefits that go beyond women, to their families.”

“Latin America understands that clearly. So much that we are seeing the expansion of these programmes in Africa and their introduction in Asia, which are replicating Latin America’s positive experiences,” said Carvalho. To shore up that process, the UNDP and Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) are currently working on systematising the regional initiatives.

“There is a very significant possibility of South-South cooperation,” Faieta said.

Prominent participants at the opening day of the global conference in Buenos Aires included U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark of New Zealand.

The meeting organised by the UNDP, U.N. Women and the Argentine government drew delegates from different regions, to reflect on persistent and new challenges facing girls and women living in poverty around the world, 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Among the challenges seen at a regional level, Carvalho mentioned the still-high maternal mortality rates, violence against women, and its most serious expression: femicide or misogynist or gender-related murders.

“Of the 28 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are in our region,” she pointed out.

She attributed that phenomenon to “the failure of governments to respond with prevention measures, an entrenched ‘machista’ culture, a view of women as property or as part of a man’s private collection, and legal questions that block women’s access to land or credit.”

“Economic empowerment of women” is another pending challenge in Latin America, Faieta said. Despite the advances made in the region, “women still suffer the most from unemployment. And women are still paid less for the same work,” she pointed out.

Nevertheless, the report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”, launched Apr. 27 by U.N. Women, reflects the progress made, stating that between 1990 and 2013, the biggest increase in women’s participation in the labour market occurred in Latin America.

During that period, their participation rose from 40 to 54 percent – although it remained far below men’s participation, which stood at 80 percent.

With respect to the persistent gender pay gap: the report adds that while women earn on average 24 percent less than men globally, in Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is 19 percent.

And in all Latin American countries that carry out time use surveys, women dedicate two to five times as much time as men to unremunerated work.

Other achievements were the political inclusion of women, in the region with the largest number of female heads of state and government.

Eleven countries passed laws establishing quotas for women’s political participation; 26.4 percent of lawmakers are women; and on average 22.4 percent of government ministers are women – the highest proportion of all regions, although still not high enough for an inclusive democracy, Faieta said.

“It is clear that conditional cash transfers won’t fix everything,” Carvalho clarified. “For that reason other policies must also be implemented.”

That includes specific gender policies as well as macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies.

Carvalho criticised cuts in social programmes “that affect society as a whole but especially women because they undermine education and health policies, and others that increase their domestic burden.”

“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality,” she said.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Argentina’s minister of social development, Alicia Kirchner, during the conference opening ceremony.

Clark, the UNDP chief, said that in the global Post-2015 development agenda, to be defined in December, it is essential to guarantee that all policies contain a gender perspective.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Sri Lanka’s Development Goals Fall Short on Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 Ranjit Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140471 In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

By Ranjit Perera
COLOMBO, May 5 2015 (IPS)

When Rosy Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s minister of state for child affairs, addressed the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York last month, she articulated both the successes and shortcomings of gender equality in a country which prided itself electing the world’s first female head of government: Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960.

After surviving a 26-year-long separatist war, which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been registering relatively strong economic growth, and also claiming successes in its battle against poverty and hunger."Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce.” -- Rosy Senanayake

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) move towards their targeted deadline in December 2015, Sri Lanka says it has reduced poverty from 26.1 percent in 1990-1991 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013 – achieving the target of cutting back extreme poverty by 50 percent far ahead of end 2015.

Still, it still lags behind in gender equality – even as 51.8 percent of the country’s total population (of 21.8 million) are women, with only 34 percent comprising its labour force.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant progress in its social and economic indicators, Senanayake told IPS, it is also one of the few countries in Asia that has a sex ratio favourable to women.

But Sri Lanka’s advancement, in light of changing demographics, will ultimately depend on its ability to enable women and young people to be active participants in the country’s post-2015 development agenda and the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This requires an increase in sustained investment targeted at gender equality and social protection,” she added.

Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the women of Sri Lanka for playing a critical role in helping the needy and the displaced.

“They’re encouraging people to build secure and prosperous neighbourhoods. They are supporting ex-combatants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and they’re providing counseling and other social services. And these efforts are absolutely vital and we should all support them,” he said.

“But we also have to do more than that,” he noted.

“Here, as in every country, it’s crystal clear that for any society to thrive, women have to be in full control – they have to be full participants in the economics and in the political life. There is no excuse in the 21st century for discrimination or violence against women. Not now, and not ever,” Kerry added.

The country’s positive development goals are many and varied: Sri Lanka has almost achieved universal primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1, who reach grade 5, is nearly 100 percent; the unemployment rate has declined to less than four percent: the maternal mortality rate has declined from 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 33.3 in 2010; and the literacy rate of 15- to 25-year-olds increased from 92.7 percent in 1996 to 97.8 percent in 2012, according to official figures released by the government.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Colombo Subinay Nandy says since the end of the separatist war, “Sri Lanka has graduated from lower to middle income status.”

Still, despite strong health and education results, Sri Lanka struggles to provide gender equality in employment and political representation.

Referring to the MDG country report produced by the government, Nandy says, Sri Lanka, overall, is in a strong position. The good performance noted in the report has been sustained and Sri Lanka has already achieved many of the MDGs and is mostly on track to achieve the others, he said.

But the negatives are also many and varied.

The proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament “remains very low”; the number of HIV/AIDS cases, despite low prevalence, is gradually increasing; tuberculosis remains a public health problem; there has been an increase in the incidence of dengue fever; and Sri Lanka’s debt-services-to-exports ratio remains relatively high compared to other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eight MDGs spelled out by the United Nations include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

The targeted date to achieve these goals is 2015.

Senanayake told the CPD unemployment amongst women is more than twice as high as unemployment amongst men, while women migrant workers and women in the plantation and export processing sectors bring in significant foreign exchange earnings to the country.

However, a majority of women who participate in the labour force do so in the informal sector.

“This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during their course of employment. Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce,” she said.

Sri Lanka recognises that inclusive development rests on ensuring equality of opportunity in work.

“As such, we are firmly committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalised sectors,” she noted.

These investments demand a broader discussion on the value of female participation in development.

This includes the availability and promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights; robust mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girls; and strengthening measures to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

These, she said, are critical in ensuring Sri Lanka’s ‘demographic dividend’ can be leveraged.

Meanwhile, the introduction of family planning services by the Family Planning Association was well integrated into maternal and child health services and later expanded to reduce the stigma surrounding contraception.

This strategy accounted for more than 80 percent decline in fertility, according to Senanayake.

Additionally, the government of Sri Lanka, through her Ministry, has introduced a scheme that provides a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women in the country to reduce rates of anaemia, low birth weight and malnutrition – which affects both mother and baby.

Still, Sri Lanka faces the problem of unsafe abortions, unintended and teenage pregnancies, which pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of women and adolescents.

In this respect, she said, strengthening comprehensive reproductive education through school curriculum can help young people access accurate information on gender, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and increase their awareness on the effective use of contraception.

Currently over 23.4 percent households are headed by women.

To combat these demographic pressures, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has set up a National Committee on Female-Headed Households and a National Centre for Female Headed Households – enabling female heads of households to integrate into the workforce and access sustainable livelihoods.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In India, a Broken System Leaves a ‘Broken’ People Powerlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:02:18 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140438 In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As India paid glowing tributes to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of its constitution and a champion of the downtrodden, on his 124nd birth anniversary last month, public attention also swivelled to the glaring social and economic discrimination that plagues the lives of lower-caste or ‘casteless’ communities – who comprise over 16 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The Right to Equality – enshrined in the Indian Constitution in 1950 – guarantees that no citizen be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 further lays down a penalty of imprisonment from six months to a year for violators.

"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Yet, despite constitutional provision and formal protection by law, the world’s largest democracy is still in the grip of what erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “caste apartheid”: a complex system of social stratification that is deeply entrenched in Indian culture.

For millions of Dalits, or ‘untouchables’, existing at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, discriminatory treatment remains endemic and continues to be reinforced by the state and private entities.

A 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) revealed that one in four Indians across all religious groups admitted to practising untouchability.

This heinous practice manifests itself in multiple ways: in some villages, students belonging to higher castes refuse to eat food cooked by those who fall under the Dalit umbrella, which encompasses a host of marginalised groups.

In parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh – which researchers say is one of the worst geographic offenders when it comes to untouchability – Dalit children are ostracised, or made to sit separately in school and served food from a distance.

A detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government-sponsored programme aimed at achieving universal primary education, found three kinds of exclusion faced by students protected under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Act — by teachers, by peer groups and by the entire academic system.

This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school and making derogatory remarks about their academic abilities”, among others.

Legal protections, but no implementation

India’s infamous caste system, considered a dominant feature of the Hindu religion and widely perceived as a divinely-sanctioned division of labour, ascribes to Dalits the lowliest forms of menial labour including garbage collection, removal of human waste, sweeping, cobbling and the disposal of animal and human bodies.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that some 800,000 Dalits are engaged in ‘manual scavenging’ – though some estimates put the number at closer to 1.3 million.

Despite enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, which provides for punishment, including fines, for those employing scavengers, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to clear human waste from dry latrines, clean sewers and scour septic tanks and open drains with their bare hands.

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In a blatant violation of this law, several Government of India offices continue to have such labourers on their payrolls. The majority of manual scavengers are women, who are forced to carry the waste on their heads for disposal in dumps, generally situated on the outskirts of towns or cities.

Over the years, scholars, researchers and academics have echoed what the members of the Dalit community already know to be true: that caste in India largely determines the limits of a person’s economic, social or political life.

Denied access to land, education and formal job markets, Dalit peoples face an additional hurdle: routine sexual, physical and verbal abuse by higher-caste communities and even law enforcement personnel, making it nearly impossible to seek justice or even basic recourse against discrimination.

Beena J Pallical, a member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an umbrella group comprising various Dalit organisations, told IPS that even in the 21st century Dalits still remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised community in India.

“There is systemic and systematic exclusion of this class mainly because the political will to empower them is missing despite a raft of policy guidelines,” she said.

From as far back as India’s fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-75), provision has been made for channelling government funds into services and benefits for scheduled castes.

Schemes like the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan were introduced to allocate portions of the government’s yearly budget proportionate to the size of each demographic in need of state funds. Currently, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the population, while scheduled tribes now account for 8.2 percent of the population.

However, despite these policy guidelines, successive Indian governments have consistently ignored laws on allocation and lagged behind on implementation. According to Dalit activist Paul Divakar, analyses of federal and state budgets reveal that denial, non-utilisation and diversion of funds meant for the upliftment of scheduled tribes and castes are fairly routine practises.

“This clearly demonstrates that economic development of this [demographic] is not the government’s priority,” Divakar told IPS. “The Dalits continue to lag behind because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development, which should be made punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

“A majority of these people continue to languish in extreme poverty and unemployment because of their social identity and lack of resources. A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Extreme violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; every day, more than four untouchable women are raped, while every week 13 Dalits are murdered and six kidnapped.

In 2012, 1,574 Dalit women were raped and 651 Dalits were murdered.

Dalit women and girls, far removed from legal protections, also continue to be exploited as ‘temple slaves’ – referred to locally as ‘joginis’ or ‘devadasis’. In a practice that dates back centuries in India, Dalit girls – some as young as five years old – believed to be born as ‘servants of god’, are dedicated in an elaborate ritual to serve a specific deity.

Bound to the temple, they are forced to spend their childhood as labourers and their adult life as prostitutes, although the custom was outlawed in 1989.

Twenty-seven-year-old Annamma* a jogini at a temple in Tamil Nadu, recalls how men (including priests) raped her for five years before she managed to escaped to a women’s home in New Delhi last month.

“It was as if I wasn’t even a human being,” she told IPS. “Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely.”

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, or broken to pieces. Sixty-seven years after India’s independence, millions of people are still being broken, physically, emotionally and economically, by a system and a society that refuses to treat them as equals.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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