Inter Press Service » Women & Economy News and Views from the Global South Tue, 01 Dec 2015 08:00:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In Botswana: Leaving the Corporate Office to Work the Land – and Finding Opportunity Mon, 30 Nov 2015 11:14:24 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom 0 Opinion: Ending Child Marriage – What Difference Can a Summit Make? Thu, 26 Nov 2015 23:08:31 +0000 Samuel Musyoki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet why does it still happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

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

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

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Kenya: Transforming Mandera County’s Deadly Reputation for Maternal Health Mon, 19 Oct 2015 06:31:04 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1) is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Photo Credit: @islamicrelief

Photo Credit: @islamicrelief

By Siddharth Chatterjee
Mandera County, Kenya, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

For many women in Mandera County – a hard to reach, insecure and arid part of North Eastern Kenya – the story of life from childhood to adulthood is one about sheer pain and struggle for survival.

As little girls, they undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful carving out of the external genitalia that leaves them with lifelong physical and psychological scars.

Most girls will be married off when barely into their teens, forcing them to drop out of school, their immature bodies thrust into the world of childbearing.

As a result, Mandera – just a two-hour flight from the dynamic, modern East African hub of Nairobi – has maternal mortality ratio of 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate that surpasses that of wartime Sierra Leone (2000 deaths per 100,000 live births) and far above Kenya’s national average (448 deaths per 100,000 live births).

Mandera is an example of a marginalized community rife with internecine conflicts, pockets of extremism, poor human development and cross border terrorism, where residents are trapped in poverty, misery and desperation. Cultural norms like status of the women, FGM and child marriage makes it worse. Among the poor, inequities hurt women and girls most.

However, things are looking up. Kenya’s decision to devolve government, putting much more power in the hands of local authorities, is having an impact on the ground. Indicators such as number of health facilities offering basic maternal and child health, and the number of women giving birth in a health facility, are improving.

Just as critical to these improvements is the recently established private sector’s coalition to transform the health landscape of this county, long considered a lost frontier. The goal of this coalition is to develop new products and service delivery models, like community life centers (CLCs) to improve maternal and new-born health among most vulnerable populations in Kenya.

An inter-agency team consisting of the Office of the President of Kenya, Ministry of Health, Kenya Red Cross, UNOCHA, Save the Children, technology company Philips, Amref, Safaricom, GlaxoSmithKlein and UNFPA, visited Mandera on 13 October 2015 with the ambassadors of Turkey and Sweden to Kenya, to launch a Ministry of Health-UNFPA–Philips innovation partnership.

The UNFPA and Philips CLC project is expected to bring quality primary healthcare within reach of about 25,000 people through small improvements that enhance the functionality of health facilities like 24-hour lighting that will allow facility deliveries to take place and sick children attended after dark. If successful, this initiative could be scaled-up and transform maternal and child health in Mandera county.

Mandera has long remained out of bounds for most international UN staff and diplomats due to insecurity. Hopefully the visit by the Turkish and Swedish ambassadors , who are ardent advocates of the rights of women and children, will pave the way for more visits to all the country’s North Eastern counties which face similar challenges.

The ambassadors spoke of their countries’ commitment to work with the county to change the narrative, especially to advance the rights and wellbeing of all women and girls.

The broader partnership, which also includes Huawei, Kenya Health Care Federation and MSD, together with the United Nations’s H4+ partners, will focus on the six counties with a high burden of maternal mortality: Wajir, Marsaibit, Lamu, Isiolo, Migori and Mandera.

The main activities in these six counties will include strengthening supply chain management for health commodities, increasing availability and demand for youth-friendly health services, capacity building for health professionals, youth empowerment and research. These activities be complemented by the results-based financing supported through the Health Results Innovation Trust Fund managed by the World Bank.

It is also in line with the full-scale Kenyan government commitment to reduce maternal deaths and the new polices of free maternity care and user fee removal.

Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta once remarked that “I am deeply saddened by the fact that women and children in our country die from causes that can be avoided. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is why I am launching the ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’ which will bring prenatal and postnatal medical treatment to women and children in our country.”

The dividend from healthier women will be a more educated and healthy society, with more economic opportunities and reduced exclusion which will engender peace and hopefully reduce the drivers of violent extremism.

It will be a major score for Mandera towards fulfilling the vision of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which is about empowerment and participation of women, ending discrimination and the scourge of harmful traditional practices like FGM and child marriage.


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Native Women Green the Outskirts of the City, Feed Their Families Sat, 17 Oct 2015 13:42:14 +0000 Franz Chavez Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
SUCRE, Bolivia, Oct 17 2015 (IPS)

The hands of women who have migrated from rural areas carefully tend to their ecological vegetable gardens in the yards of their humble homes on the outskirts of Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, in an effort to improve their families’ diets and incomes.

“The men worked in the construction industry, and 78 percent of the women didn’t have work – they had no skills, they washed clothes for others or sold things at the market,” Lucrecia Toloba, secretary of “productive development and plural economy” in the government of the southeastern department of Chuquisaca, told IPS.

Her hair in two thin braids and wearing traditional native dress – a bowler hat, a short, pleated skirt called a pollera, and light clothing for the mild climate of the Andean valleys – Toloba, a Quechua Indian, is an educator who now runs the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme in the region.“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals." -- Alberta Limachi

In her modest office, she explains that women are at the centre of the programme, which brings them recognition from their families and communities, diversifies their families’ diets, and offers them economic independence through the sale of the vegetables they grow ecologically in the city, which at the same time benefits from healthy, diversified fresh produce.

Five km away, on the outskirts of the city, women in the neighbourhoods of 25 de Mayo and Litoral, who belong to the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, met IPS with a basket of fresh produce from their gardens, including shiny red tomatoes, colourful radishes and bright-green lettuce.

A total of 83 poor suburban neighborhoods in Sucre are taking part in the project, which has the support of the national and departmental governments and of the .

The initiative has 680 members so far, said Guido Zambrana, a young agronomist who runs the Urban Garden Project.

The lunch we are served is soup made with vegetables grown in their backyard gardens, accompanied by tortillas made with cornmeal mixed with flour from different vegetables. Fresh produce is also grown in greenhouses built throughout the hills of Sucre, 2,760 metres above sea level and 420 km south of La Paz, the country’s political centre.

The women have learned how to grow vegetables and how to improve their family’s food security, Tolaba explained.“We want to reach zero malnutrition,” she said.

In Sucre temperatures range between 12 and 25 degrees Celcius. But in the greenhouses, built by the families with support from the government, temperatures climb above 30 degrees.

Sometimes, the temperatures marked by the thermometers in the greenhouses spike and the windows have to be opened. The greenhouses have roofs made of transparent Agrofil plastic sheeting and walls of adobe. They are built under the guidance of technical agronomist Mery Fernández.

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The luscious leafy chard and lettuce in the greenhouse of Celia Padilla, who came to Sucre from an indigenous village in the neighbouring department of Potosí with her husband in 2000 and settled in Bicentenario, a neighbourhood in a flat area among the hills surrounding the city.

Padilla, who also belongs to the Quechua indigenous community like most of the women in the association, joined the project with a garden of just eight square metres last year, and is now thinking about building a 500-square-metre greenhouse.

Greenhouse figures

On average, according to FAO statistics, each greenhouse run by the Sucre association produces some 500 kg of fresh produce a year, in three harvests. And an average of 60 percent of the food grown goes to consumption by the families, while the rest is sold, either by the individual farmers, collectively, or through the association.

A total of 17 different kinds of vegetables are grown, nine in each garden on average. The women and their families provide the land and the labour power in building the greenhouses. Besides planting and harvesting they select the seeds and make organic compost, in this sustainable community project.

The Bolivian organisers of the programme say each greenhouse can produce an average income of at least 660 dollars a year.

Her husband, a construction worker who does casual work in the city, is pleased with the idea of expanding the garden by building a greenhouse. Their home garden provides the family with nutritional food and brings in a not insignificant income through the sale of fresh produce to neighbours or at market.

With the earnings, “I buy milk and meat for the kids,” Padilla told Tierramérica, holding bunches of shiny green chard in her hands.

Water for irrigation is scarce, but a local government programme has donated 2,000-litre tanks to capture water during the rainy season and store it up for using in drip irrigation.

The chance to improve the family diet generated a good-natured dispute between Alberta Limachi and her husband, who came to this city from the village of Puca Puca, 64 km away.

The couple, who own a 150-square-metre plot of land on the outskirts of the city, had to decide between a family garden or using the space to build a garage. Limachi, one of the leaders of the urban producers, won the argument.

Her enthusiasm is contagious among her fellow urban farmers.

“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals,” she told Tierramérica, after proudly serving a snack of green beans and fresh salad.

“I don’t ask my husband for money anymore, and we don’t spend anything on vegetables,” Padilla said, pleased to help support her family. Her garden is well-known in the neighbourhood because she grows lettuce, chard, celery, coriander and tomatoes, and her neighbours come knocking every day to buy fresh vegetables.

A committee made up of associations of farmers and consumers monitors and certifies that the fresh produce is organic and of high quality, José Zuleta, the national coordinator of the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme, told Tierramérica.

“The women grow their food without (chemical) fertiliser, using organic compost that can return to the soil, which means their production is sustainable,” Yusuke Kanae, an agronomist with the FAO office in Sucre, commented to Tierramérica.

Kanae, originally from Japan, offers the women technical know-how and simple practices such as converting a creative variety of containers – ranging from a broken old football to plastic television set packaging – into improvised pots for growing vegetables.

“Even if it’s just 20 bolivianos (slightly less than three dollars), the women can help buy notebooks and shoes,” said Kanae, to illustrate the importance of the women’s contribution to the household, which chips away at what he described as “sexist” dependence, while putting them in touch with their indigenous cultural roots.

Kanae also supports the introduction of organic vegetables in the city, and has encouraged the owners of the Cóndor Café, a vegetarian restaurant, to buy products certified by the women as organic.

Visitors to the restaurant enjoy substantial dishes prepared with the vegetables from the women’s peri-urban gardens, which combine Japanese and Bolivian cooking, and cost only three dollars a meal.

The manager of the restaurant, Roger Sotomayor, told Tierramérica that he enjoys supporting the family garden initiative. “We want to encourage environmentally-friendly production of vegetables,” he said, stressing the high quality of the women’s produce and the fact that the cost is 20 percent lower than that of conventional crops.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Will the SDGs Serve to Bridge the Gender Gap? Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:53:17 +0000 Paloma Duran SDG Fund Gender

By Paloma Duran

Increasingly gender equality, rooted in human rights, is recognized both as a key development goal on its own and as a vital means to helping accelerate sustainable development. And while the field of gender has expanded exponentially over the years, with programmes focused exclusively on women and girls and greater mainstreaming of gender into many development activities, a range of challenges remain.

Women are still facing unequal access to economic and environmental resources. They often face numerous barriers linked to clear discrimination as well as bear the burden of low wages or unpaid work, and are susceptible to gender-based violence.

So despite the significant advances for women, the fact is that unless women and girls are able to fully realize their rights in all facets of society, human development will not be advanced. The year 2015 is a crucial time to further equality and if the new post-2015 development agenda is to be truly transformative, women must be at the front and also at its centre.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. All the goals are intrinsically interrelated and interdependant – and ideally gender will be adressed and mainstreamed amongst all goals. SDG 5 calls on governments to achieve, rather than just promote, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The proposed targets include ending violence, eliminating harmful practices, recognizing the value of unpaid care, ensuring that women have full participation – and equal opportunities – in decision-making, and calling for reforms to give women equal access to economic resources. The new post-2015 agenda is a universal idea with high hopes to “leave no one behind,” but to make this a reality, we must keep pressure on governments to follow through on their commitments.

The Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) has placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of its efforts to acceleterate progress towards the SDGs. By directly empowering women and by bringing a gender perspective to all development work we can build a more equitable, sustainable future for all.

Stemming from the comitments established in 1995 at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the SDG Fund adopted a dual strategy for advancing gender equality to support both gender-targeted programmes while simultaneaously mainstreaming gender as a cross-cutting priority. Gender mainstreaming entails transforming existing policy agendas by integrating a gender perspective into all policies and programming.

There is no set recipe to creating programmes that will solve gender inequality and perhaps it would be good if there was one single universally applicable and empirically proven method for achieving gender equality in every country around the world. A multi-dimensional issue such as gender inequality is deeply rooted in economic and cultural structures of society and it requires comprehensive approaches. Furthermore, one needs to explore the issue in the specific context of the country in question to effectively improve the quality of life for women and girls everywhere.

The private sector, together with NGOs and governments, are key actors in addressing the variable causes of gender inequality. In other words, achieving equality and empowerment for women is a challenge that requires the synergistic intervention of multiple actors.

For example, the Fund is working in Bangladesh, where women are employed at the lower end of the productivity scale. Labor force participation of rural women is only 36.4 per cent compared to 83.3 per cent of men. Creating employment and income generating opportunities for women as well as enhancing women’s access to social protection will help reduce gender disparities which are exacerbated by women’s poverty and vulnerability.

The SDG Fund programme entitled “Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities” is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), local governments and private partners with the overall goal to assist 2,592 women from ultra-poor households. As part of a pilot programme, women are trained in maintenance or rehabilitation of key community assets, public works and community service activities.

Furthermore, the programme is targeting 2,600 women in Kurigram District which has the highest incidence of poverty in Bangladesh. In particular, it aims to assist those who are alone because they are divorced, have been abandoned by their husbands or widowed and/or with low economic status including those with no assets or forced to beg due to poverty. The results will be replicated, targeting 1,900 women, in Satkhira district and the government is further committed scale-up this pilot in a further 20 districts. Overall, the 18 month programme is designed to:

– Helping primary beneficiaries permanently move out of poverty.
– Support human capital with activities to boost knowledge, skills, and confidence.
– Enhance economic inclusion with vocational skills training linked to viable job placement.
– Provide livelihoods options that are resilient in the face of climate change.
– Encourage wage saving or issued as a graduation bonus.
– Facilitate partnership linkages with small and medium enterprises and public-private partnerships to hire participant women after the programme ends.
– Integrate social protection, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
– Enhance good local governance and develop the capacity of local government institutions.
Gender equality is often seen as the key to addressing the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals and accelerating global development beyond 2015. There is strong evidence that closing gender gaps accelerates progress towards other development goals. Poverty, education, health, jobs and livelihoods, food security, environmental and energy sustainability will not be solved without addressing gender inequality.

Urgent action is needed to empower women and girls, ensuring that they have equal opportunities to benefit from development and removing the barriers that prevent them from being full participants in all spheres of society. In the words of UN Women’s Executive Director, “equality for women, is progress for all” and so let us embark on this journey together.


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Only 1325 National Plans will trigger the Resolutions Implementation Wed, 14 Oct 2015 16:29:35 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

This week, the United Nations Security Council is holding an open debate to undertake its High Level Review of the 15 years of implementation of the landmark Resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security.”

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Resolution 1325 is very close to my intellectual existence and my very small contribution to a better world for each one of us. To trace back, 15 years ago, on the International Women’s Day in 2000, as the President of the Security Council, following extensive stonewalling, I was able to issue an agreed statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognized, underutilized and undervalued contribution women have always been making towards the prevention of wars and building peace.

The Council recognized in that statement that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making levels. That is when the seed for Resolution 1325 was sown. Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interest of society in mind.

In choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee’s citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.” The committee further asserted that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” Resolution 1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in the citation of the Nobel Prize.

Thanks to 1325, the Security Council is gradually accepting that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives and participation in peace processes. The Council has also met with women’s groups and representatives of NGOs during its field missions on a fairly regular basis.

Much, nevertheless, remains to be done. We continue to find reports that women are still very often ignored or excluded from formal processes of negotiations and elections and in the drafting of the new constitution or legislature frameworks. The driving force behind 1325 is “participation.”I believe the Security Council has been neglecting this core focus of the resolution. There is no full and equal participation of women at any level. There is no consideration of women’s needs in the deliberations.

The main question is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making and as peacekeepers to ensure real and faithful implementation of 1325.

Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations related Security Council resolutions, reports and missions. A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. As a matter of fact, I would recommend that all prospective peace-keepers must pass the “1325 test” before they leave their countries and there should be no relaxation with regard to this qualifier. Troop contributing countries should be aware that repeated violations by their contingents would put them on a global blacklist.

I recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s words saying “Too often the great decisions are originated and given shape in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression.” It is a reality that politics, more so security, is still a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts. Here I would add emphatically that, to be true to its own pronouncements, I believe it is absolutely high time that in its seven decades of existence, the United Nations should appoint the first woman as the next Secretary-General.

After 15 years of the adoption the UNSCR 1325, our sole focus should be on its true and effective implementation. In real terms, the National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of Resolution 1325. It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 50 out of 193 UN Member-States have prepared their plans after 15 years – a dismal record. There has to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs – for example, setting a target of 100 NAPs by 2017. UN Women needs to work more proactively with the Member States so that their 1325 NAPs are commenced and completed without any further delay.

Anniversaries are meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. Coming months will tell whether 1325’s 15th anniversary has been worthwhile and able to create that energy.


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Pakistan Initiative Seeks to Improve Maternal-Child Care in Rural Areas Sun, 11 Oct 2015 19:27:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 11 2015 (IPS)

“We are extremely happy over the government’s initiative to give money to the pregnant women and enable them to seek proper treatment,” said Sharif Ahmed at a basic health unit (BHU), near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

Ahmed said he had brought her his wife to undergo ultrasound and other pregnancy-related investigations at the BHU and preempt any complications.

“My wife has already experienced miscarriage of a pregnancy two years ago due to lack of lack of tests. I didn’t have money to pay for medical examinations of my wife which resulted in miscarriage,” he told IPS.

Ahmed, a wage worker, is beneficiary of the scheme launched by the provincial government to cut maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by offering the equivalent of US$ 10 to each of the pregnant women per visit to the hospital.

It is the family’s second visit to this BHU. “We have got $20 so far. The money we received has been paid on transportation charges to reach this hospital. Without this, our visit couldn’t have been possible,” he said.

The KP is one four Pakistani provinces to start such a program. The World Health Organization’s Dr Kashif Ahmed told IPS that the province has 29 per cent literacy rate, lower than rest of the country, and accordingly many people aren’t aware of pregnancy-related problems or are too shy to be seen by doctors.

Pakistan ranks third in the world with an estimated 275 out of 100,000 number of maternal deaths, behind only India and Nigeria, he said.

“At present only 50 per cent of women in the province receive any form of ante-natal care and only 25 per cent are receiving any form of post-natal care from a trained birth attendant,” he said.

The KP government hopes that the $10 payments to pregnant women for each visit to public hospitals will encourage women to undergo at least three check-ups before birth and two after birth, for which they get a total amount of $50, with the aim of reducing maternal deaths from delivery-related complications.

Another challenge is that women in this male-dominated society are also not readily coming to hospitals because they want to be seen by women doctors and there is an extreme shortage of them, as well as of nurses.

KP’s director-general for health, Dr Pervez Kamal, told IPS that the majority of the province’s 2.2 million people live in remote rural areas and thereby have difficulty in accessing primary healthcare facilities. It is hoped that providing cash payments will enable them to hire transport and reach the hospitals, he said.

“We have also put the place the services of 500 women doctors or Lady Health Workers (LHWs) in all the 1,680 rural health centres in the province to encourage the women to come there and get examined by females,” said Kamal. Thousands of LHWs have been deployed at the community level to provide vaccination besides free check-ups to the childbearing women, he said.

“As of January 2015, a total of 5,678 women have benefited from the scheme and we are hopeful that we can reduce pregnancy-related deaths in the province,” he said.

Dr Kamal said that the government has also been campaigning aggressively through radio and television advertisements to inform the people about the incentives to the pregnant mothers so more people could avail the opportunities and preempt complications.

Professor Shamim Akhtar, a gynecologist at the district headquarters hospital in Mardan, one of the KP’s 26 districts, says the government’s initiative has been been having a positive impact. “We have recorded a 50 per cent increase in visits of the pregnant women at the outpatients department of the hospital because of the money provided by the government,” she says.

The women who are getting the money and free treatment are also communicating to their relatives and neighbours about the facilities, which has resulted in people have started coming to hospitals in droves, she says.

One pregnant patient at the Mardan facility, 20-year-old Jehan Bibi, told IPS that she had been informed by a woman in her neighborhood about free treatment and money that she would get if she want to the hospital. “I have given birth to a son two years ago but I faced lot of problems because of home-based delivery. I have no money to visit the doctors then. But now the situation is different and I will get a total of $50 which is enough to visit the hospital and pay for transportation cost,” said Bibi as she underwent ultra sonography.

“During my earlier pregnancy, my family didn’t allow me to venture out of home and get examined by male doctor which caused complications. Now, my family is also happy that I am getting examination by female doctors and my in-laws have no objection,” she said.


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Analysis: Is the Miracle of Microfinance Illusory? Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:58:08 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha

Mohammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, transformed the lives of millions of poor women through unsecured micro loans or micro credit to self-help groups. Microcredit evolved into microfinance that also includes savings and basic forms of insurance and transfer mechanisms. Within a few years, microfinance became a global phenomenon. Although microfinance continues to grow, the enthusiasm for it shows signs of waning.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of scepticism regarding the “miracle” of microfinance. Critics have questioned whether the rhetoric has moved far ahead of the evidence, with some even suggesting that microfinance can spell the death of local economies. Meanwhile, its defenders present robust evidence to substantiate their claims that microfinance delivers enormous benefits. We argue that the miracle is largely intact but needs strengthening.

According to data from MIX, which tracks microfinance institutions (MFIs), there is a solid and growing base of microfinance providers, with a global loan portfolio amounting to US$ 81.5 billion in 2012 with an outreach of 91.4 million low income clients. Women make up 80 per cent of the clients of the world’s largest 34 microlenders. Yet half of the world’s adults still do not have accounts in financial institutions and 76 per cent of the poor are unbanked. When you add all this up, the case for vigorous expansion of financial inclusion in the SDGs is patently obvious.

Recent shift of the focus to financial sustainability raises serious concerns about dilution of the outreach of microfinance [for example, the number (breadth) and socioeconomic level (depth) of the clients served by MFIs.] That the trade-off exists is undeniable but little is known about its extent. It is often emphasised that large-scale outreach to the poor on a long term basis cannot be guaranteed if MFIs are not financially sustainable. Consequently, donors, policy makers, and other financiers of microfinance have shifted from subsidising MFIs towards financial sustainability and efficiency of these institutions.

Analysis of a large cross-section of countries reveals that MFIs providing mainly individual loans are more profitable, but the fraction of poor borrowers and of women in the loan portfolio is lower than in institutions that concentrate on group lending. Moreover, MFIs that provide individual loans increasingly focus on wealthier clients, a phenomenon that is often referred to as “mission drift,” while this is less so for the group-based MFIs. So the importance of institutional design in reducing the trade-off cannot be overlooked. Besides, sustainability is feasible without mission drift by reducing costs and gaining efficiency through innovative use of information and communication technology.

Research has documented that social networks help the diffusion of microfinance. A survey in Guatemala demonstrated that individuals imitate the choices made by other members of the same network – in this case a household’s access to credit was closely related to membership in a church network. In another example, a majority of representatives of financial institutions in India concurred that self-help groups (SHGs) were more likely to be successful in villages with a high density of social networks and associations.

Not only do SHGs benefit from the presence of networks, they themselves also contribute to trust, reciprocity and associational capital (such as through strengthening of local institutions). Moreover, presence of successful SHGs induces quicker formation of other SHGs at a much cheaper cost and the self-reinforcing process gathers momentum over time.

Group lending not only reduces transaction costs of small loans but also ensures high repayment rates. However, group liability may also impose a “cost.”

The incentive for group participants is to reduce the risk taken by their fellow members, since participants do not benefit from the upside of any risky investment, but are liable for the downside. As a result, members of a group may impose excessive risk aversion. Our analysis of selected Asian countries – especially India – offers insights.

Drawing upon Indian evidence, assortative matching into poor and rich groups was reported by about 71 per cent of members of SHGs.

Few believed that the poor were excluded because of high interest rates and/or stringency of financial discipline. However, remoteness of villages, absence of functioning local institutions and lack of awareness of benefits of group lending were identified as major impediments in covering larger segments of the poor – especially by representatives of financial institutions.

A cross-country analysis establishes robustly that gross loan portfolio (GLP) of MFIs benefits not just the poor but also the poorest. In other words, GLP of MFIs is negatively associated with the incidence, depth, and severity of poverty. Hence sustained flows to MFIs may help avert accentuation of poverty as a consequence of the slow and faltering recovery of the global economy.

Much of micro evidence (such as that which is gathered at the household level) on poverty reduction is mixed. A striking case is that of Bangladesh, where the impact in some studies is positive and large, while in others the impact has been insignificant or weak. In Peru, it is the “better-off” rather than the core poor who benefit most from microfinance. By contrast, there is a substantial positive effect on a multi-dimensional welfare indicator in India. In China, while microfinance is welfare enhancing, the main beneficiaries are the non-poor. Experimental evidence for Thailand, the Philippines and India (Hyderabad slums) suggests that the (relatively) affluent benefit more.

An important insight for Bangladesh and elsewhere is that the exit from poverty requires longer-term participation. Household entrepreneurs require time to achieve productive efficiency or to earn higher returns from self-employment activities. Since existing members of microcredit generally obtain larger amounts, MFIs should be encouraged to offer larger loans sooner rather than later.

Before the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka, access to microfinance helped income convergence among the borrowers – a process that was disrupted by this natural disaster. However, microfinance loans after the Tsunami helped in reducing the income gap between those who were hit by it and others who were not. This process of recovery was fast. There is thus strong evidence for the effectiveness of microfinance as a recovery tool.

Women in higher loan cycles of Kashf’s microfinance programme in Pakistan experienced a significant increase in empowerment compared to their counterparts in the first loan cycle. Being in a higher loan cycle affects the ability of a female borrower to decide how to use the loan. Microlending thus leads to higher financial empowerment. Besides, there was social empowerment as mobility restrictions were much fewer among them.

A detailed analysis for India has a much broader focus on women’s empowerment and offers a positive role of microfinance. A large majority of SHG participants themselves reported that they had gained self-confidence, greater respect within the family, a more assertive role in family decision-making, a more important role in children’s health and education and that there was a reduction in domestic violence. In the broader community sphere, however, a considerably lower share of respondents gave a positive response.

But these indices of empowerment do not reveal the “costs.” Higher incomes and a broadening of spheres of activities entailed greater responsibilities for women and extra hours of work. In the absence of reallocation of domestic responsibilities, some of the welfare gains from extra incomes earned were partly offset by longer hours of work.

In conclusion, while the miracle of microfinance has eroded somewhat with financial sustainability overriding social goals, there are ample grounds for optimism about recreating it.


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Opinion: Kenya Cannot Rise If Its Women Are Left Behind Wed, 23 Sep 2015 19:24:38 +0000 Zebib Kavuma Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed greets the Emir of Kuwait Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah as President Kenyatta looks on. (Photo:PSCU)

Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed greets the Emir of Kuwait Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah as President Kenyatta looks on. (Photo:PSCU)

By Zebib Kavuma and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

Consider this. A young girl called Amina Mohamed who is the 8th of 9 children, from a modest Muslim home in Kakamega County in Kenya was encouraged by her parents to complete her education and pursue her dreams.

Amina Mohamed is Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the first woman to Chair the World Trade Organization and is credited for enhancing Kenya’s global image.

Through sheer grit, determination and a passion for the impossible, Amina a woman from ordinary circumstances went on to doing extraordinary things. Amina showed that women must persist in breaking down gender stereotypes and other barriers obstructing them from reaching their full potential.

On August 13, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya celebrated thirty years since the fourth world conference on women that brought together gender and women affairs ministers from across the continent to take stock of the progress made in the African women movement since the conference.

“The Constitution imposes a duty on the State to use legislative and other measures, including affirmative action, to realize gender equality,” said President Kenyatta during the opening of the Nairobi +30 conference.

Kenya is involved in a healthy debate around gender and governance, primarily focusing on increasing the number of women not only in parliament but also in political parties.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010, in a bid to promote gender equality, provides that not more than two thirds of members of elective and appointed bodies should be of the same gender. The unsolved controversy in how to realize the Two-Thirds Gender Principle is still being debated well past the deadline set by the Attorney General and could bring Kenya on the brink of a constitutional crisis.

A Commonwealth report shows that Kenya also trails its neighbors in the share of women in Cabinet, parastatal directorships and top civil service jobs.

The global average of women holding parliamentary seats remains around 20 per cent, which is well below the thirty per cent target set in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and in the MDGs. Rwanda is the only country with the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, currently at over 60 per cent.

Kenya has also drafted the National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and related Resolutions. The Action Plan recommends enforcement of laws that promote gender equality, inclusion and engagement of women in mechanisms for prevention, management and resolution of conflict at all levels of decision making. The plan now needs to be launched and implemented.

As President Barack Obama said during his visit to Kenya, one half of the team has been left out of the game for too long. It is time to reconfigure power relations; it is time for us to transform traditional perceptions of manhood and it is time to engage fully the one half of the team that has been given only token participation.

How will we know that we are fully involving women? That will happen when women begin having equal rights, and equal access to justice, power, resources and opportunities; when women and girls live free from all forms of violence and discrimination; when women begin making decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality and reproductive rights; and when women begin working for equal pay with men doing the same jobs.

It will also be the time when harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and child marriages are eradicated, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The constitutional provision of devolved governance, with its emphasis on decentralized processes and principles of accountability and inclusiveness, has created a perfect opportunity for a country with better choices, opportunities, access to resources and life outcomes for women.

A much overlooked prerequisite to achievement of development, peace and sustainability is gender equality which will result in improved educational outcomes, better health and greater economic prosperity. It will help Kenya reap a demographic dividend, which could bolster the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present.

What is required now is committed identification and addressing barriers to gender equality in county-specific cultures and institutions. This information can provide entry points for transformation.

Women are half of Kenya’s demographic dividend and are the engines that will fuel Kenya’s economic growth. (END | COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Opinion: From Inequality to Inclusion Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:57:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Recent years have seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in economic inequality, thanks primarily to growing recognition of some of its economic, social, cultural and political consequences in the wake of Western economic stagnation.

The unexpectedly enthusiastic reception for last year’s publication of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” underscores this sea change.New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside.

Piketty has correctly renewed attention to the connections between the functional and household/individual distributions of income as well as to wealth inequality. Clearly, the distribution of wealth (capital, real property) is the major determinant of the functional distribution of income.

And by textbook economics’ definition, profit maximisation involves capturing economic rents of some kind – from finance, monopolistic intellectual property rights (IPRs), ‘competitive advantage’, producer surplus, etc., presumably thanks to successful rent-seeking, by influencing legislation, regulation, public policy, public opinion and consumer preferences.

As is understandable and the norm, Piketty’s focus is on inequality at the national level, rather than at the global level. But Branko Milanovic and others have shown that about two-thirds of overall world interpersonal or inter-household inequality is accounted for by inter-country inequality, with the remaining third due to what may be termed class and other intra-national inequalities.

International inequality

There are many competing explanations for international inequalities. Historical differences in capital accumulation, including public investments, and productivity are commonly invoked to explain different economic capacities, capabilities and incomes.

But frequently unsustainable foreign investments also lead to significant net outflows, greatly diminishing the net benefits from additional economic capacities. Financial flows to the settler colonies from the late 19th century were exceptional in this regard. Generally, a small share of foreign direct investment actually enhances economic capacities, instead mainly contributing to acquisitions and mergers.

Financial globalisation in recent decades, especially capital market flows, have not ensured sustained net flows from capital-rich to capital-poor economies, but has instead worsened financial volatility and instability, increasing the frequency of crises with traumatic effects for the real economy, and growth sustainability.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that international trade lifts all boats, it has generally favoured the richer countries at the expense of their poorer counterparts. For well over a century, except during some notable periods and some rare minerals more recently, the prices of primary commodities have declined against manufactures.

This has been especially true of tropical agriculture compared to temperate products, as productivity gains have accrued to consumers more than to producers. In recent decades, cut-throat competition has meant a similar fate for developing country manufactured exports compared to the large marketing margins of manufactures from developed economies.

Social protection

As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the call to address inequality as a crucial challenge for development has emerged as an issue to be addressed in the post-2015 development framework.

Inequality gradually came back into development debates after the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF focused flagship publications on this issue a decade ago, with the publication of the UN 2005 Report on the World Social Situation entitled The Inequality Predicament, the World Development Report 2006, and the 2007 World Economic Outlook on Globalization and Inequality.

The ongoing effects of the global financial and economic crisis since 2008 have reinforced recognition that inequality has been slowing not only human development, but also economic recovery. But this has not led to any fundamental change in economic policy thinking or a major commitment to redress inequality at the global or even national level, except perhaps by improving taxation.

Instead, it has led to a consensus to establish a global social protection floor, recognising not only that poverty and hunger in the world will not be eliminated by more of the same economic policies, especially with the currently dim prospects for sustained economic and employment recovery and growth.

Historically, the welfare state emerged in developed countries to address deprivations in the formal economy – retirees, retrenched workers, military veterans and mothers among others. Social protection and other fiscal interventions do not fundamentally challenge wealth or income distribution, and current thinking is mindful of the potentially unsustainable burden of a welfare state.

New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside. The new interventions thus seek to accelerate the transition from protection to production, for greater resilience and self-reliance.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Revolutionise Waste Management on Nicaraguan Island Mon, 07 Sep 2015 20:29:48 +0000 Jose Adan Silva Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

By José Adán Silva
ALTAGRACIA, Nicaragua, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean.

It all began in 2007. María del Rosario Gutiérrez remembers her initial interest was piqued when she saw people who scavenged for waste in Managua’s garbage dumps fighting over the contents of bags full of plastic bottles, glass and metal.

How much could garbage be worth for people to actually hurt each other over it? she wondered. She was living in extreme poverty, raising her two children on her own with what she grew on a small piece of communal land in the municipality of Altagracia, and the little she earned doing casual work.

Gutiérrez talked to a neighbour, who told her that in Moyogalpa, the other town on the island, there was an office that bought scrap metal, glass and plastic bottles.

The two women checked around and found in their community a person who bought waste material from local hotels, washed it and sold it to Managua for recycling.

So Gutiérrez, who is now 30 years old, got involved in her new activity: every day she walked long distances with a bag over her shoulder, picking up recyclable waste around the island.

Her neighbour and other poor, unemployed women started to go with her. Then they began to go out on bicycles to pick up garbage along the roads tossed out by tourists, selling the materials to a middleman.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to put food on our tables. And since we didn’t have jobs, it didn’t matter to us how much time it took, although the work was really exhausting at first,” Gutiérrez told IPS.

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Women filling enormous bags with scraps of trash have now become a common sight along the streets on the island.

Seeds of change

Miriam Potoy, with the Fundación entre Volcanes, said her non-governmental organisation decided to support women who were scavenging for a living, starting with a group in Moyogalpa.

“We initially helped them with safety and hygiene equipment, then with training on waste handling and treatment and the diversified use of garbage, so they could sell it as well as learn how to make crafts using the materials collected, to sell them to tourists and earn an extra income,” she told IPS.

Impressed by the women’s efforts, other institutions decided to support them as well.

The Altagracia city government gave them a place to collect, classify and sort the waste, tourism businesses that previously separated their garbage to sell recyclable materials decided to donate them to the women, and food and services companies provided equipment and assistance.

Solidarity and cooperation with the group grew to the point that the city government obtained funds to pay the women nearly two dollars a day for a time, and provide them with free transportation to take their materials to the wharf, where they were shipped to the city of Rivas. From there, the shipments go by road to Managua, 120 km away.

“The community appreciates the women’s work not only because they help keep the island clean, which has clearly improved its image for tourists, but also because they have showed a strong desire to improve their own lives and their families’ incomes,” said Potoy.

And they have done this “by means of a non-traditional activity, which broke down the stereotype of the role women have traditionally played in these remote rural communities,” she said.

Francis Socorro Hernández, another woman from the first batch of recyclers, told IPS that at the start “it was embarrassing for people to see us picking up garbage.”

But she said that after taking workshops on gender issues, administration of micro-businesses, and the environment, “I realised I was doing something important, and that it was worse to live in a polluted environment, resigned to my poverty – and I stopped feeling ashamed.”

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Their work also inspired other initiatives. For example, Karen Paladino, originally from Germany but now a Nicaraguan national, is the director of the community organisation Environmental Education Ometepe, which works with children and young people on the island in environmental awareness-raising campaigns.

When Paladino learned about the work of the recyclers, she got students and teachers in local schools to support their cause, organising clean-up days to collect waste which is donated to the women’s garbage collection and classification centre.

Ometepe is a 276-sq-km natural island paradise in the middle of the 8,624-km Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, in the west of this Central American nation of 6.1 million people.

Not everything is peaches and cream

Of the 10 women who started the collective – now the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia – six are left.

They continue to scavenge for recyclable waste material, removing it from the island and shipping it to Managua, where it is sold. They make enough for their families to scrape by.

Gutiérrez said the mission has been difficult because of the high cost of transport, the job insecurity, and the scant financing they have found.

“We have always had support, thank God; the city government supported us, some hotels have too, people from the European Union gave us funds for improving the conditions of the landfill,” she said.

“But we need more funds, to be able to collect and transport the material, process it, and remove it from the island,” she added.

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

With backing from the EU, the city government of Moyogalpa was able to improve the garbage dumps of the island’s two municipalities. Now there are large sheds in both dumps, where organic material is treated, as well as containers for producing organic compost using worms, and rainwater collection tanks.

The two municipalities also gave the recyclers plots of land for growing their own vegetables and grains for their families.

But the efforts and the solidarity were not sufficient to keep some of the women from dropping out.

As global oil prices plunged, the value of waste products also dropped, and profits did the same, which discouraged some of the women who went back to what they used to do: combining farm work with domestic service.

“I was really committed to the work of collecting garbage, but all of a sudden I felt that the project wasn’t doing well and I needed to feed my family, so I went with my husband to plant beans and vegetables to earn a better income,” María, one of the former members, told IPS.

“But I still collect waste products anyway, and although I’m not participating anymore, I donate them to my former mates in the collective,” said María, who did not give her last name.

But while some of the women dropped out, others joined. “The waste keeps pouring in, and support for our work is going to grow. Our families back us and we are enthusiastic,” one of the new women, Eveling Urtecho, told IPS.

With Gutiérrez’s leadership, backing from the city government, and renewed assistance from the EU, the women are confident that their incomes and working conditions will soon improve.

Ometepe – which means ‘two mountains’ in the Nahuatl tongue – is visited by an average of 50,000 tourists a year, and at least 10 million tons of plastic enter the island annually, according to figures from local environmental groups.

The association of Altagracia gathers between 1,000 and 1,200 kg of plastic a month, and their counterparts in Moyogalpa collect a similar amount.

Until the women launched their revolution, most of the waste in Ometepe ended up strewn about on the streets, in rivers and in backyards, or was burnt in huge piles. When it rained, the water would wash the refuse into the lake.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chile Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Women in the Face of Climate Change Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:35:50 +0000 Renee Juliene Karunungan

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Hands Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Rarer than one thinks’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A grassroots solution to a global problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and loopholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Women Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Two Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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