Inter Press Service » Women in Politics http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143783 A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?

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Women’s Rights First — African Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-rights-first-african-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143743 Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

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

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spanish Member of Congress Causes Controversy after Breastfeeding in Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/spanish-member-of-congress-causes-controversy-after-breastfeeding-in-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=spanish-member-of-congress-causes-controversy-after-breastfeeding-in-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/spanish-member-of-congress-causes-controversy-after-breastfeeding-in-parliament/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 18:01:04 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143692 By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

A member of the Spanish Congress, Carolina Bescana, of the anti-austerity Podemos Party, created a controversy last week when she took her six-month old baby to work and openly breastfed him during a session. The delegate was widely criticized by almost all parties for her action and the event has spurred a lively debate on the image of mothers who juggle motherhood with their jobs.

In 2006, socialist Manuel Martin established a kindergarden where congresswomen and men could leave their children while they attended congress sessions. It is a paying service, with the capacity to take 45 infants but that the congresswoman decided not to use, instead bringing her baby into a working session, and making the point for mothers generally about having children in the workplace:

“It is time to bring the reality that is on the streets into official institutions, so that this Chamber is more representative of our country,” Ms Bescansa declared. “We need to encourage that certain tasks stop being a private affair that women need to deal with confidentially in the invisibility of their homes.”

Podemos was condemned by all parties. Socialist Carme Chacón, who was criticized when she was the Minister of Defence for traveling to Afghanistan in the last months of her pregnancy, deprecated her colleague.

“Honestly, it was not necessary. I feel badly because there are many female workers in this country who cannot do this. It’s a bad example (for women) because there have been many efforts to allow women in Congress, who do not have maternity leave, to breastfeed their children, as I did, without everyone seeing”, said Chacón.

The idea, however, was to set an example of the difficulty that thousands of women face in juggling their private and professional lives and to highlight the need to share responsibilities and rights between both men and women.

“In this country, there are millions of mothers who unfortunately cannot raise their children as they would like, who cannot go to work with their children as if it was something normal,” Bescansa said to reporters ” I think that the fact that coming to parliament with a breastfed baby makes the news says a lot about this country. That means we need to give more visibility to this.”

It is not the first time a European politician has taken a stand by bringing their children into parliament. Iolanda Pineda, of the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia took her baby in 2012 into Spain’s upper house of parliament, and Licia Ronzulli, a former Italian member in the European Parliament, has frequently taken her daughter to sessions.

The issue has opened a debate on the role of women both professionally and privately. Breastfeeding, which is a natural part of childbearing and caring, is still seen in many places as obscene and something to be done in private.

It is important to mobilize at all levels of society in order to change the shame associated with breastfeeding and to incorporate it as part of the natural daily tasks of women both in public and in the workplace.

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Africa, Only If It Bleeds It Leads?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/africa-only-if-it-bleeds-it-leads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-only-if-it-bleeds-it-leads http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/africa-only-if-it-bleeds-it-leads/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 18:03:17 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143646 Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women.  Credit: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women. Credit: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Egypt, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

Africa is clearly one of the most negatively impacted regions in the world, not helped by the increasing trend of the mainstream media to focus on tragic news, following a self-imposed rule: “if it bleeds it leads”.

Famine; hunger; malnutrition; indebtedness; piracy; wars; massacres; tribal fights; terrorist attacks; Boko Haram; Al Qaeda Maghreb; IS; western military interventions; corruption; human rights abuses, and repeated operations of humanitarian assistance, among others, are pure adrenalin for most media outlets.

Africa also jumps to the top of the headers when it comes to announcing massive oil purchases by China. Western politicians and media tend to denounce the lack of human rights in the Asian giant.

Regardless of what and why, the very fact is that this continent seems sentenced to be the source of negative news.

Not that all these facts are entirely false—Africa has indeed been the scene for a lot of “bad news”.

Meanwhile, a number of experts, analysts and activists attempt to systematically remind us of the deep roots laying beneath most African dramas.

This is the case of centuries-long colonialism; slavery; massive depletion of natural resources by voracious multinational corporations; big sales of western weapons to parties in conflicts; extensive land grabbing and the heavy impact of climate change caused far away from Africa by industrialised states, just to mention some.

Yet, their voices have never received the attention they deserve. And when they have this attention, it was temporary and did not produce any effective action to help put an end to all the problems.

Against this backdrop, the African continent has been moving ahead in spite of the recent strong falls seen in international markets of its main sources of income, such as oil, commodities and minerals.

An Agenda 2063 for Africa

When in 2013 the leaders of 54 African countries adopted Agenda 2063 to achieve socio-economic transformation of the continent in half a century, they probably did not expect that the market value of some key resources would fall so sharply in a very short period of time.

Nevertheless, this vast continent extending over 30,221.000 km2, home to 1,2 billion people speaking up to 2,000 different native languages, is taking several steps to move forward.

For instance, the theme of the 26th Summit of heads of African states (Addis Ababa, January 21-31, 2016) is human rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.

In fact, African women face seven major challenges: economic exclusion; financial systems that perpetuate their discrimination; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and poor retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence; harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables, among others.

The Addis Ababa based African Union Commission (AUC) underlines that “Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. It builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.”

Top Aspirations

Seven top African Aspirations shape Agenda 2063. These aspirations “reflect our desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want,” AUC underlines.

The aspirations as defined by the AUC are:

Aspiration 1: A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

“We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent.”

Aspiration 2
: An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance.

Since 1963, the quest for African Unity has been inspired by the spirit of Pan Africanism, focusing on liberation, and political and economic independence. It is motivated by development based on self-reliance and self-determination of African people, with democratic and people-centred governance.

Aspiration 3: An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Aspiration 4
: A peaceful and secure Africa.

Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. As a first step, dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be actively promoted in such a way that by 2020 all guns will be silent. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education.

Aspiration 5: An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics.

Pan-Africanism and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African people’s and diaspora’s will be entrenched.

Aspiration 6: An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.

“All the citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors”

Aspiration 7: Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner.

“Africa shall be a strong, united, resilient, peaceful and influential global player and partner with a significant role in world affairs. We affirm the importance of African unity and solidarity in the face of continued external interference including, attempts to divide the continent and undue pressures and sanctions on some countries.”

Whether the continent will manage to achieve all these objectives or not is something that belongs to the future. The point is that the aspirations of a whole, huge continent have never made the main headlines in western mainstream media.

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Seven Top Challenges Facing African Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/seven-top-challenges-facing-african-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seven-top-challenges-facing-african-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/seven-top-challenges-facing-african-women/#comments Mon, 18 Jan 2016 17:13:01 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143622 Participants in the African Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in Addis Ababa | Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Participants in the African Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in Addis Ababa | Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Egypt, Jan 18 2016 (IPS)

Economic exclusion; financial systems that perpetuate their discrimination; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and poor retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence; harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables, are the major standing barriers to achieving gender equality in Africa.

These challenges are now top on the agenda of the “8thAfrican Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights,with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women” taking place in Addis Ababa on 17 – 21 January.

The event is preparatory to the 26th African Union Summit which will bring together the heads of states and governments of the 54 African countries in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January. Significantly the Summit‘s theme is Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women.

More than 600 Million Women in Africa

Women represent more than half of the 1,2 billion African population living on a total of 30.2 million km2 and speaking up to 2,000 different native languages.
More than 50 percent of Africa’s population is under 25 years of age.

Due to the numerous armed conflicts in the continent-which is home to nearly half of the 42 ongoing conflicts – African women are in charge of the majority of households and are key food producers, and they represent more than 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, in addition to playing a major role in managing poultry, dairy animals, fisheries, aquaculture, and the marketing of handcrafts and food products.

The pre-summit event relies on a strong participation of civil society organisations, and includes an experts meeting of the Specialised Technical Committee on Gender and Women Empowerment, and a closed session of African ministers, among others, and will culminate with a joint meeting of all parties and stakeholders.

Both the pre-summit and the summit coincide with “2016, the African Year of Human Rights, with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”.

Enormous Human Rights Challenges

According to the African Union Commission (AUC), the continent continues to face enormous challenges with regards to the respect, promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights, which if not urgently and adequately addressed, may erase the human rights gains recorded over the preceding decades.

“These challenges include, but are not limited to: inadequate allocation of resources to human rights institutions, lack of capacity, insufficient political will, unwillingness by States to surrender sovereignty to supranational monitoring bodies, unwillingness by some States to domesticate international human rights treaties.”

These challenges also include “persistent violence across the continent which result in destruction of life, property and reverse human rights gains, widespread poverty, ignorance and lack of awareness, the effects of colonialism characterized by human rights unfriendly laws, bad governance, corruption and disregard for the rule of law.”

Why Now?

According to the AUC, “the year 2016 marks important milestones in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.”

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

“The African Women’s Decade is the AU’s implementation framework which aims to advance gender equality through the acceleration of the implementation of global and regional decisions on gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, which is described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.

To commemorate “these important milestones,” the AUC reports, the African Union Heads of State and Government at their 25th Ordinary Summit in June 2015 in Sandton, South Africa, declared 2016 as “the Africa Year of Human Rights, in particular, with focus on the Rights of Women”.

“Considering that 2015 was declared the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”, the 2016 theme marks the second consecutive year that gender equality and women’s empowerment are adopted as the highest priority on the continental agenda, “ AUC underlines.

What For?

The overall objective of the Gender Pre-Summit is to bring together voices of key actors in the gender equality and women’s empowerment arena, to update and discuss critical developments in the field, assess the extent of implementation of commitments, especially the Declaration on 2015 Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 as well as the Mid-Term Review of the African Women’s Decade, the AUC reports.

It also aims at identifying future priority areas of action including the implementation of the 2016 year of Human Rights with a focus on the Rights of Women, and call for greater acceleration in the effective implementation of commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The pre-summit event is expected to culminate with a document/communiqué including concrete decisions to be presented to the AU Summit of Heads of State and Government, for consideration and adoption.

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2016 Potential Landmark Year for Women Leaders in US and UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/2016-potential-landmark-year-for-women-leaders-in-us-and-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2016-potential-landmark-year-for-women-leaders-in-us-and-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/2016-potential-landmark-year-for-women-leaders-in-us-and-un/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 08:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143559 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations is hoping 2016 will be a landmark year for gender empowerment – not only for the world body but also for the United States.

“The empowerment of women is real,“ says UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden. “It is a remarkable moment where key candidates for the next President of the United States (POTUS) and for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations (SGUN) are women.”

But will this be a political reality or a floating fantasy?

Asked about history-in-the-making, UN Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, told IPS: “Yes, it will be historic and game changing –if and when that happens, because it would be the first time ever since the founding of the UN and the USA.”

First and foremost, she said, imagine the symbolism of the POTUS and the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful country, largest democracy and economy of the world and a consistent advocate and global leader on gender equality and women’s rights and women’s empowerment, being a woman?

“Similarly imagine the symbolism of the United Nations — the World Government, peacemaker and peace builder, standard-setter and upholder of human rights, including that of women and girls, and of sustainable development and climate action, leader in humanitarian action — being a woman,” said Puri, who is also deputy executive director of UN Women.

She said it would be a signal not only to the US government and the people but also to the patriarchal political systems in the world that have to deal with a Woman POTUS.

Also imagine, she noted, what electricity will be generated by a woman SGUN in the UN system – in the Secretariat, and among member states and civil society. And their agendas and representation.
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She also said that two world women leaders could go beyond symbolism for the gender equality agenda– which is huge in itself— and change the realities for women and girls around the world.

With the current race for nominations for the upcoming US presidential elections in November, there are two women candidates among half a dozen men: former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat; and Carly Fiorina, a Republican and former chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard.

As the campaign continues at a feverish pace, there is widespread speculation that Clinton will emerge as the Democratic candidate for the presidency at the Democratic convention on July 25.

At the United Nations, there is an intense campaign for a woman to be elected Secretary-General – which will be a historic first in the 70-year-old Organisation which has been routinely headed by men since its founding.

The list of declared and undeclared candidates include: Michelle Bachelet, current president of Chile and former executive director of UN Women; Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director-general of the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, a vice president of the European Commission.

The two Bulgarians are likely to be in the forefront, because under a system of geographical rotation, the post of secretary-general should now go to an Eastern European.

The others singled out as potential candidates include President Ellen Johnson of Liberia; Christine Legard of France and head of the International Monetary Fund; and Alicia Barcena Ibarra of Mexico, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

But the final winner may well be out of the current list of candidates.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who finishes his term end December, has repeatedly said it’s high time for the secretary-general to be a woman. The new SG will take office January 2017.

Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of the New York-based Equality Now, told IPS 2016 could well be a landmark year for the political participation of women.

“We could realistically see a woman leader of the UN because of the many qualified women around the world who could fill the position of Secretary-General, and a more transparent selection process that we and our partners have been advocating for.”

She said a woman at the helm of the UN could contribute greatly to achieving global peace and security, and transform attitudes, behaviors and social norms for how women and girls are valued and treated around the world.

“This would further help to break down glass ceilings for women, while girls will also be able to see that there are no limits to what position they can aspire. A female US president is also a strong possibility and one that would send a very important message too,” Hassan declared.

Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), told IPS 2016 could be historic for women and girls—but only if countries follow through on the commitments made in the 2030 Agenda and in the Beijing Platform for Action—the agreement forged two decades ago to fulfill women’s rights.

“We still have a long way to go,” she cautioned.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, was more skeptical.

“It’s time to separate the facts from false claims,” she told IPS.

UN SG Ban Ki-moon says he has appointed an unprecedented number of women leaders in the United Nations (source: SG’s foreword to the Global Study on UNSCR 1325).

However, in an article circulated in December 2015, Karin Landgren, a visiting fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, reports that last year’s selections for the senior most level of UN staff have skewed nearly 92 per cent male, she pointed out.

Between 1 January and 10 December 2015, 22 men and only two women were appointed as UN undersecretaries-general.

Moreover, Landgren’s article pointed out that in 2015, six women undersecretaries-general were replaced by men, further undercutting the goal of building female leadership within the UN.

“With such claims from current leadership, which is predominantly male leadership, I will stick to the old adage ‘to see is to believe’.”

It’s also sad to think that having a woman president is still a novelty in the US. The absolute necessity of women’s leadership and participation in decision-making is already an establish fact and not a novelty act—-in many countries, she argued.

UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2122 emphasizes women’s leadership and participation in decision-making as well as the protection of women’s human rights as critical elements of international peace and security.

“I would stress that these are at the core of any civilized society and functioning democracies. They are requisites for sustainable development; and they are a requirement in successful humanitarian operations,” said Cabrera-Balleza.

Women’s leadership and participation in decision-making will not only contribute to good governance. It will redefine governance and power.

She said the campaign for a woman UN Secretary-General is a commendable effort.

“To have a woman SG in the UN should have happened decades ago not after 70 years! However, I would underscore that it should be the RIGHT woman!,” she declared.

She said the right woman is someone who would challenge the conventional definition of power and authority.

“And it is someone who is not beholden to big campaign contributors, political parties or permanent members of the Security Council. It is someone who is deeply connected to civil society and is beholden only to the people, the 99 % whom she is supposed to serve.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Brazil 2015: The Year When Everything Went Wronghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazil-2015-the-year-when-everything-went-wrong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-2015-the-year-when-everything-went-wrong http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazil-2015-the-year-when-everything-went-wrong/#comments Wed, 30 Dec 2015 08:15:23 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143469

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro.

By Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 30 2015 (IPS)

As 2015 approaches its end, Brazilians live a period of extraordinary uncertainty. The recession seems to get worse by the day. Inflation is high and shows unexpected resistance to tight monetary policies applied by the Central Bank. The sluggish international economy has largely neutralized incentive and the strong devaluation of the domestic currency could represent a reality to exporters and to producers who compete with now more expensive imports. After an initial resistance, employment levels began to fall.

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho

All this, however, is not just a “normal” recession. It takes place against a background of a major corruption scandal, which has all but paralyzed investment by major firms, like Petrobras. It also raises the concrete possibility of seeing political figures such as the president of the Federal Chamber of Deputies go to jail. The government leader at the Federal Senate is already in jail, as are many former authorities in President Luíz Inácio -Lula- da Silva’s administration (2000-2011). Hardly a day goes by without any news about new scandals or arrests of authorities and businessmen. On top of it all, in the early days of December, the embattled president of the Chamber of Deputies accepted a request to open impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff for alleged violations of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Any subset of that list of events would be enough to generate widespread instability. All of them put together created a hitherto unheard of situation of political and economic crisis of which one has to make extraordinary efforts to see any way out.

Impeachment procedures against the president did not come out of the blue. The revelation of the Petrobras scandal has brewed rumors and suspicions, if not against the president herself, certainly against many of those who surround, or have surrounded, her (she is a former minister of energy in Lula’s government and a former chairman of the administration council of Petrobras.) So far, however, no accusations or evidence emerged against Rousseff. In fact, she does not even seem to be a major target of investigators, who seem to be zeroing in on Lula (and his immediate family.) The piece of accusation justifying the opening of impeachment proceedings relies on the use of accounting artifices to violate the constraints on public expenditure imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which a majority of opinion makers seem to consider too weak a case to sustain an impeachment. What makes the whole process more menacing is in fact her acute political fragility. Rousseff is universally seen as Lula’s creation, but never really relinquished his power over the party and the coalition it led.

Soon after Rousseff was reelected in November 2014, she announced a radical change of orientation in her administration’s economic policies. Austerity policies, cutting expenditures and raising taxes, seemed to be unavoidable in the face of the increased federal expenditure made to ensure her victory in the presidential elections.

The incumbent president repeatedly stated during the campaign that she rejected those policies, only to announce their implementation a few days after the result of the popular vote became known. Despite the apparent support of Lula, the change in orientation was badly received by the official Workers Party (PT), which grudgingly announced support for her, but conditioning it to a change in macroeconomic policies.

The party seemed to ignore the fact that during 2014, the increase in fiscal deficits failed to have any expansionary impact on the economy, which did not grow at all. The perception that the president had no political support of her own, however, stimulated her adversaries to aggressively advance proposals for her impeachment, based on whatever reason one could find, or the annulment of the election itself, or if nothing else worked, to force her to resign. With an aggressive opposition and unable to count on a supporting political base, the government was paralyzed for the whole year.

No relevant austerity measure has obtained Congress’ approval. Despite the effort of leftist parties to blame the pro-austerity Finance Minister Joaquim Levy for the contraction of the economy, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the failed attempts to get the proposed policies approved by Congress just made explicit the lack of political power that characterized Rousseff’s position. The impasse created by the inexistence of an effective government in the face of an aggressive opposition led decision-makers to postpone any but the most immediate decisions. Investment has fallen, workers have been fired in increasing numbers, consumption has been negatively impacted, etc.

The political crisis has transformed an expected recession into something that threatens to become a major depression, both in depth and duration. The situation is made more difficult by the difficulty to visualize any sustainable solution for the crises in the mediate horizon, let alone the coming months. If the impeachment process prospers, one could expect for sure increased political instability as a result, on the one hand, of attempts by PT and the social movements that are close to it to react somehow, and, on the other, by the fact that there is no organized opposition ready to take the place of the current administration. If the impeachment initiative is defeated, the problem remains that the president does not have any vision or power and it is overwhelmingly difficult to imagine how she could recover enough initiative to last the three remaining years of her term in office.

Paraphrasing the late historian Eric Hobsbawn, who observed that the Twentieth Century had been very short (beginning in 1914 and ending in 1991), 2015 may be a long year for Brazilians. The incompressible minimal duration of an impeachment process will take it to 2016, when the social situation may be more tense than it is now, with high inflation and increasing unemployment. If a national agreement of some sort, be it in terms of allowing Rousseff’s government to work or by removing it altogether, is not reached to avoid the worse, 2015 can last even longer. The country may dive into an unknown abyss of a combination of economic, political and social crises of which it is hard to see how, when and in what conditions it will recover.

(End)

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Saudi Women Make Huge Advances After Victory in Pollshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/saudi-women-make-huge-advances-after-victory-in-polls-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudi-women-make-huge-advances-after-victory-in-polls-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/saudi-women-make-huge-advances-after-victory-in-polls-2/#comments Thu, 24 Dec 2015 20:54:33 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143441 By Katherine Mackenzie
ABU DHABI, Dec 24 2015 (IPS)

The triumph of 19 women in what is being seen as a landmark and historical election in a largely traditional and conservative country is a massive gain for women. A United Arab Emirates (UAE) daily newspaper called this a right step in the Islamic spirit.

“It is a giant step forward for them, as they had previously been completely absent in elections. The exercise is the clearest implementation of former Saudi King Abdullah’s directive, who announced four years ago that women would take part in the 2015 municipal polls,” said ‘The Gulf Today’.

What is remarkable is that over a 100,000 women cast ballots, it added.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, were competing for 2,100 seats across the country. The councils are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens.

The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only.

While fewer than one per cent of the victorious candidates were women, this is a big moment for Saudi. Thirty women do sit in Saudi Arabia’s 150-member parliament, the Shura Council, but they are appointed directly by the king. So women elected by the public is a big advance.

The paper explained that many women candidates ran on platforms that dealt with social and civic issues, such as more nurseries to offer longer day-care hours for working mothers, the creation of youth centres with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better rubbish collection and overall greener cities.

In October, the Saudi Gazette reported that tough road stretches and long distances to the nearest hospital had forced some women in the village of Madrakah, where one female candidate was elected, to give birth in cars, the editorial said.

“It is precisely these kinds of community problems that female candidates hope to solve once elected to the municipal councils. The councils will advise authorities and help oversee local budgets,” it noted.

Some women were not expecting any of the female candidates to win.

“Saudi women are not allowed to do several things, such as driving, a prickly issue which has the sorority up in arms. They have to kowtow to dictates that give men the overriding power, particularly on issues such as marriage, work, travel and higher education,” the paper explained.

“Even those women contesting for public office had to surmount a number of challenges. However, many female candidates were chuffed that they were running for office, even if they didn’t think they would win. They said they were glad at finally being able to do something they had only seen on television or in movies,” it said.

Each step women take that provides visibility in public life, or sports, or culture, is another cultural norm developing. The youth in Saudi make up the vast majority of the kingdom’s population. They are growing up in a country where in a number of years women taking part in sport, business, and in the legal aspects of government writing legislation will be just normal.

From here there is no going back, and for a country that has hung onto traditions while the world around has adapted and made advances, this is a hard pill to swallow. But change is on its way, however slow.

In conclusion, the editorial said that given the gender disparity, it remains to be seen whether this translates into a more active role in politics for the women in the country. “In a male-dominated world, such a situation seems unlikely, unless men have a sea change in attitude. Happy women will make happy mothers and that will mean happy homes, where everything begins,” it said. (WAM) (END/2015)

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“Jasmine Revolution” Challenges Male Domination of Tea Trade Unionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/jasmine-revolution-challenges-male-domination-of-tea-trade-unions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jasmine-revolution-challenges-male-domination-of-tea-trade-unions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/jasmine-revolution-challenges-male-domination-of-tea-trade-unions/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 08:11:27 +0000 Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143041 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/jasmine-revolution-challenges-male-domination-of-tea-trade-unions/feed/ 0 Only 1325 National Plans will trigger the Resolutions Implementationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/only-1325-national-plans-will-trigger-the-resolutions-implementation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-1325-national-plans-will-trigger-the-resolutions-implementation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/only-1325-national-plans-will-trigger-the-resolutions-implementation/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2015 16:29:35 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142692 By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 14 2015 (IPS)

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.

(End)

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Opinion: Turn Words into Action Involving Women for Lasting Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-turn-words-into-action-involving-women-for-lasting-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-turn-words-into-action-involving-women-for-lasting-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-turn-words-into-action-involving-women-for-lasting-peace/#comments Tue, 13 Oct 2015 11:15:33 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142679

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

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

We have recently celebrated the peace deal struck between the government in Colombia and the main guerrilla group. The deal reached on justice issues represents the clearest sign yet of a possible end to five decades of conflict.

Less is said about the multiple constructive ways in which Colombian women have participated in, and influenced, these negotiations or mobilized for peace, including the many meetings held by women survivors with the women in both negotiating teams.

Similarly, few people know that last year also saw the end of another decade-long conflict in the Philippines between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the result of peace talks where more than a third of negotiators were women. This was far from the norm of official peace talks, which are typically either all-male affairs or include very few women.

Their participation was built on a long history of women’s leadership at the local and national levels in the Philippines over the years, including under the leadership of two women presidents who both invested political capital in resuming negotiations with the rebel group.

As tensions threaten Burundi’s fragile peace, Burundian women quickly organized themselves in a nationwide network of women mediators to quell or mitigate the myriad local disputes and prevent escalation. In 129 municipalities across the country, they addressed, by their count, approximately 3,000 conflicts at the local level in 2015, including mediating between security forces and protesters, advocating for the release of demonstrators and political prisoners, promoting non-violence and dialogue among divided communities, and countering rumours and exaggerated fears with verifiable information to prevent widespread panic. UN Women has been proud to support these efforts.

These are not isolated stories.

A comprehensive study prepared for the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, a landmark resolution that recognized the role of gender equality and women’s leadership in international peace and security, makes the strongest case to date that gender equality improves our humanitarian assistance, strengthens the protection efforts of our peacekeepers, contributes to the conclusion of peace talks and the sustainability of peace agreements, and accelerates economic recovery after conflict.

It compiles growing evidence accumulated by academic researchers that demonstrates how peace negotiations influenced by women are much more likely to end in agreement and to endure. In fact, the chances of the agreement lasting 15 years goes up by as much as 35 per cent.

Where conflict-affected communities target women’s empowerment they experience the most rapid economic recovery and poverty reduction and greatly improved broad humanitarian outcomes, not just for women and girls but for whole populations.

In a world where extremists place the subordination of women at the centre of their ideology and war tactics, the international community and the UN should place gender equality at the heart of its peace and security interventions. Beyond policies, declarations and aspirations, gender equality must drive our decisions about who we hire and on what we spend our money and time.

It is clear that we must strive for tangible changes for women affected by war and engage the grossly underused capacity of women to prevent those conflicts. Countries must do more to bring women to the peace table in all peace negotiations. Civil society and women’s movements have made extraordinary contributions to effective peace processes.

We know that when civil society representatives are involved in peace agreements, the agreements are 64 per cent more likely to be successful and long-lasting. It is time to put a stop to the domination of peace processes by those who fight the wars while disqualifying those who stand for peace. It is time to stop the under-investment in gender equality.

The percentage of aid to fragile states targeting gender equality as a main goal in peace and security interventions is only 2 per cent. Change requires bold steps, and it cannot happen without investment.

Now that time has come. On 25 September, the countries of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which expresses determination to “ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality” and to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence”.

Two days later, 72 Heads of State and Government attended our Global Leader’s Meeting to underline top-level support for gender equality and commit to specific action. And on 13 October, the Security Council will celebrate the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325 and inject new energy, ideas and resources into women’s leadership for peace.

In a world so afflicted by conflict, extremism and displacement, we cannot rely only on the ripples of hope sparked by the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. We need the full strength of our collective action and the political courage of the leaders of the international community. Anniversaries, after all, must count for more than the passing of years. They must be the moment for us to turn words into action.

(End)

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Electoral Revolution in Brazil Aimed at Neutralising Corporate Influencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence/#comments Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:45:49 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142533 Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

From now on, elections in Brazil will be more democratic, without corporate interference, which had become decisive and corruptive. A Sep. 17 Supreme Court ruling declared unconstitutional articles of the elections act that allow corporate donations to election campaigns.

The 8-3 verdict came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) against the laws authorising and regulating donations by big corporations to political parties and candidates.

In its challenge to the constitutionality of the elections act articles in question, the OAB argued that they violate the democratic principle – the backbone of the 1988 constitution – which established that all citizens are political equals, with each individual vote carrying the same weight.

The verdict also stated that corporate financing runs counter to the first article of the constitution, which establishes that the political representatives elected by the people must serve the public good and that there must be a strict separation between the public and private spheres.

Citing academic studies, the OAB further asserted that corporate donations transfer economic inequality to the political sphere, negating democracy and tending towards a “plutocracy” or government by the rich.

Campaign donations from corporations give them undue influence over politics by putting candidates in their debt, bound to defend “the economic interests of their donors in the drafting of legislation, the design and execution of the budget, administrative regulation, public tenders and public procurement,” the OAB added.

Corruption is also a major factor in this promiscuous relationship between money and politics. And campaign financing is almost always an element present in political scandals.“The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law.” -- Fernando Lattman-Weltman

Today’s big scandal, which decisively influenced the Supreme Court ruling, involves a kickback scheme in the state-owned oil firm Petrobras, which suffered at least six billion dollars in losses from graft and overvalued assets.

More than 30 politicians have been accused of receiving bribes from large construction and engineering firms in return for inflated contracts, and part of the funds allegedly financed candidates and political parties in election campaigns.

The ban on corporate donations will also lead to a reduction in gender imbalances in politics, sociologist Clara Araujo at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told IPS.

Female candidates receive little campaign funding from their parties, but they are given larger proportions of donations from individuals than from companies, the opposite of male candidates, she said, based on the study “Women in the 2010 Elections”, which she co-authored, and on figures from 2014.

As a result of discrimination by political parties, reflected by underfunding and less advertising time, especially on TV, women are underrepresented in Congress, where they hold only 10 percent of seats in the lower house and 13.6 percent in the Senate, although they make up 52 percent of voters.

“The Supreme Court judgment is good news in the midst of the chaos of Brazil’s political crisis,” because it brings new balance to a game that was unfavourable to women, Guacira de Oliveira, one of the directors of the Feminist Centre of Studies and Advice (CFEMEA), told IPS.

But it has come at a moment of great uncertainty, when the crisis tends to have a greater impact on progressive political currents, and it will not change the rules that maintain inequality within and between the political parties.

Public resources, such as the official Party Fund, and radio and TV time for candidates will continue to benefit the big parties, since they are distributed proportionally to the number of seats held by each party, Oliveira lamented.

Only in-depth political reforms, called for by civil society organisations, could effectively democratise the election process. But the current legislature, where conservative lawmakers are a majority, would never approve that.

Far-reaching political reforms would require a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution – which may become a possibility if the crisis gets worse.

But without corporate donations, “campaigns will suffer a sharp drop in funding, which means candidates and parties will have to cut costs. Internet and the social networks, which already had a growing participation in the elections, will become much more important,” said Fernando Lattman-Weltman, a professor of politics at the UERJ.

“But money will seek other ways to influence politics,” he added. “The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law,” he told IPS.

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Election campaigns have become expensive in Brazil in the last two decades, with the intense use of advertising techniques. Media advisers have become indispensable, and more and more costly to hire. Some have become celebrities, whose fame has transcended national borders.

After their triumphs in Brazil, they have been hired for tens of millions of dollars to head campaigns in other countries of Latin America, or in Africa.

Large campaign teams specialising in working the airwaves and the press have turned election campaigns into a media war between well-paid armies of advisers, following the U.S. model, with ongoing qualitative surveys providing guidance for speeches, slogans and TV ads and appearances.

Now candidates will have to return to the basics: personal speeches, direct public relations, street rallies and armies of volunteers, said Lattman-Weltman.

Without resources to produce and broadcast sophisticated ads, “candidates will try to seduce the media, trying to make them more biased and identified with specific parties,” like in the United States, he said, referring to dangerous side-effects of the new scenario.

Generating new political developments and creativity in campaigns will also become more important factors, he said.

Without the millions of dollars in donations from companies, the game will be less unequal, but candidates who already have power and are well-known by the public, like legislators, governors or other political leaders, will enjoy a big advantage over new candidates, Oliveira said.

That is a disadvantage faced by women in general, who began to participate in elections more recently, and who make up a small minority in the executive and legislative branches – even though one woman, Dilma Rousseff, has been president of this country of 202 million people since 2011.

Celebrities like TV hosts, actors and footballers, along with prominent trade unionists and social activists, will likely be the most sought-after by the parties.

The next elections, for mayors and city councilors in Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities, will be a test of how campaigns will work without legal and illegal donations from the big sponsors, especially in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Statistics from the Superior Electoral Court from 2010 and 2014, when presidential, state and legislative elections were held, point to “a strong correlation between the amount of spending and victory,” said Araujo.

So without a right to vote, companies had become a decisive factor in elections. In other words, “the big voter was money,” said Claudio Weber Abramo, director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency Brazil, in a statement reflected by the OAB in its successful legal challenge that led the Supreme Court to put an end to elections dominated by corporate financing.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Women’s Major Role in Culture of Peace – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-womens-major-role-in-culture-of-peace-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-womens-major-role-in-culture-of-peace-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-womens-major-role-in-culture-of-peace-part-two/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:31:47 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142310

Ambassador Chowdhury is Chair of the U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999).

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

Another reality that emerges very distinctly in culture of peace is that we should never forget when women – half of world’s seven billion plus people – are marginalised and their equality is not established in all spheres of human activity, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

I would reiterate that women in particular have a major role to play in promoting the culture of peace in our violence-ridden societies, thereby bringing in lasting peace and reconciliation. While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognised as key to the resolution of the conflict.

I believe with all my conviction that without peace, development is not possible, without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development can be realised.

Integral connection between development and peace

In today’s world we continue to perceive an inherent paradox that needs our attention. The process of globalisation has created an irreversible trend toward a global integrated community, while at the same time, divisions and distrust keep on manifesting in different and complex ways.

Disparities and inequalities within and among nations have been causing insecurity and uncertainty that has become an unwanted reality in our lives. That is why I strongly believe that peace and development are two sides of the same coin. One is meaningless without the other; one cannot be achieved without the other.It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Education as the most critical element in the culture of peace

A key ingredient in building the culture of peace is education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in creating the culture of peace.

The young of today deserves a radically different education –“one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, non-violence and international cooperation.” They need the skills and knowledge to create and nurture peace for their individual selves as well as for the world they belong to.

As Maria Montessori had articulated so appropriately, “Those who want a violent way of living, prepare young people for that; but those who want peace have neglected their young children and adolescents and that way are unable to organize them for peace.”

It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted at the very first High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace in 2012 that “…. We are here to talk about how to create this culture of peace. I have a simple, one-word answer: education. Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace.”

In this context, I commend the initiative of the Soka University of America located near Los Angeles in initiating in 2014 its annual “Dialogue on The Culture of Peace and Non-Violence” as an independent, unbiased, non-partisan, intellectual forum to outline avenues and direction for incorporating the culture of peace and non-violence into all spheres of the educational experience.

Never has it been more important for us to learn about the world and understand its diversity. The task of educating children and young people to find non-aggressive means to relate with one another is of primary importance.

As I had underscored at the conference hosted by the Hague Appeal for Peace on “Educating toward a World without Violence” in Albania in 2004, “the participation of young people in this process is very essential. Their inputs in terms of their own ideas on how to cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies must be fully taken into account.”

Peace education is more effective and meaningful when it is adopted according to the social and cultural context and the country’s needs and aspirations. It should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values.

It should also be globally relevant. The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice rightly emphasises that “…culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems; have the skills to resolve conflicts constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the integrity of the Earth.”

Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative’s essential objective is to promote global citizenship as the main objective of education. Connecting the role of individuals to broader global objectives, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior affirmed that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Let me conclude by asserting that to turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, basically all that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence, and to practice what we profess.

Whether it is at events like the annual High Level Forums, in places of worship, in schools or in our homes, a lot can be achieved in promoting the culture of peace through individual resolve and action. Peace and non-violence should become a part of our daily existence. This is the only way we shall achieve a just and sustainable peace in the world.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Strong Words, But Little Action at Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:08:47 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142214 The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

After a one-day summit in the U.S. Arctic’s biggest city, leaders from the world’s northern countries acknowledged that climate change is seriously disrupting the Arctic ecosystem, yet left without committing themselves to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming.

The Aug. 31 summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, was organised by the U.S. State Department and attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States.

Political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who urged Arctic nations to take bolder action as the summit ended, came out with strong words, but stakeholders from civil society and scientific groups said the outcome came short of the tangible action needed.“This statement (from the one-day GLACIER Arctic summit] unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels” – Ellie Johnston, World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive

The summit attracted the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which criticised Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

All participating countries signed a joint statement on climate change and its impact on the Arctic, after the initial reluctance of Canada and Russia, which eventually added their names.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” the statement read, before going on to describe the wide range of impacts felt by Arctic communities’ landscapes, culture and well-being.

“As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”

However, the statement lacked concrete commitments, even on crucial topics like fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, leaving climate experts with the feeling that it could have been more ambitious or have offered more specific, tangible commitments on the part of countries.

“I appreciate the rhetoric and depth of acknowledgement of the climate crisis,” the World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, told IPS. “Yet this statement unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

“This is particularly relevant as nations and companies jockey for access to drilling in our historically icy Arctic seas which have now become more accessible because of warming,” she said. “Drilling for fossil fuels leads to more warming, which leads to more drilling. This is one feedback loop we can stop.”

Oil and gas companies were encouraged – but not required –to voluntarily take on more stringent policies and join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, an initiative to help companies reduce their emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed participants – members from indigenous communities, government representatives, scientists, and non-governmental organizations – at the opening of the summit. “The Arctic is in many ways a thermostat,” he said. “We already see [it] having a profound impact on the rest of the planet.”

Kerry also attempted to drum up action ahead of the COP21 United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December, urging governments to “try to come up with a truly ambitious and truly global climate agreement.”

He added that the Paris conference “is not the end of the road […] Our hope is that everyone can leave this conference today with a heightened sense of urgency and a better understanding of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the harmful impacts of climate change.”

In a closing address to summit participants, President Obama repeatedly said “we are not doing enough.” He outlined the stark impacts of a future with business-as-usual climate change: thawing permafrost, forest fires and dangerous feedback loops. “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair … any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that is not fit to lead,” he stated.

However, neither Kerry nor Obama acknowledged, as many environmental groups have pointed out, that the United States’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment falls nearly halfway short of what the country must do in order to stay within the Paris conference goal of a 2oC warming limit.

While participants emphasised engagement from affected communities, the summit itself did not manifest engagement with those communities: less than one-third of the panellists and presenters were either indigenous or female, and only one woman of colour was present.

“It would have been nice to hear more from indigenous women or women of colour,” Princess Daazrhaii, member of the Gwich’in Nation and strong advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told IPS. “The Arctic is more diverse than what I felt like was represented at the conference.”

“As life-givers and as mothers, many of us nurse our children. We know for a fact that women in the Arctic are more susceptible to the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are bound to the air we breathe. Violence against women is another issue that I feel gets exacerbated when there are threats to our ecosystem.”

All individuals talked to appreciated the conference’s emphasis on climate change as a significant problem, yet all of them also expressed a desire for the United States – and governments around the world – to do more.

“[Climate change] is what brings human beings together,” Daazrhaii said. “We’re all in this together. And we have to work on this together.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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