Inter Press Service » Women in Politics News and Views from the Global South Mon, 02 May 2016 16:59:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rights Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedom Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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Eastern Europe’s Claims for UN Chief Questioned Tue, 26 Apr 2016 01:17:42 +0000 Thalif Deen A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen

As the campaign for a new UN Secretary-General (UNSG) gathers momentum, there is one lingering question that remains unanswered: does the now-defunct Eastern European political alliance have a legitimate claim for the job on the basis of geographical rotation?

Of the nine candidates in the running, seven are from the former Eastern Europe. All previous secretaries-general have come from the four other regional groups, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and Western Europe and Other States.

But none from Eastern Europe, which exists as a geographical entity only within the precincts of the United Nations.

After the end of the Cold War in 1990-1991, Eastern European nations joined either the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Organisation (NATO), or both.

These include: Bulgaria (joined the EU in 2007), Croatia (2013), Czech Republic (2004), Estonia (2004), Hungary (2004),Latvia  (2004), Lithuania (2004),Poland  (2004), Romania  (2007), Slovakia (2004) and Slovenia (2004).

And four countries awaiting membership in the EU include: Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugolav Republic of Macedonia.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and a one-time candidate for the post of Secretary-General, told IPS the end of the Cold War has transformed Eastern Europe from a political and geographical entity to a purely geographical group.

“Many of the East European countries are in NATO and the EU and their interests are closely linked to Western Europe – although some strains are showing in the wake of economic pressures and the recent migrant waves.

He said the principle of “geographical rotation” with regard to the UNSG position is therefore less strong than the vitally important gender equality criterion.

“The appointment of a competent and qualified woman as SG is therefore essential,” said Dhanapala, who lost out to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nine years ago.

Eastern Europe should rightfully be an integral part of Western European and Other States. But the geographical group continues to exist at the UN purely to claim seats, including as non-permanent members of the Security Council, under the banner of Eastern Europe, according to some diplomats.

At elections for subsidiaries of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last week, Belarus got a seat in the Statistical Commission purely on the basis of its non-existent Eastern European credentials.

So did many others: Estonia in the Commission on the Status of Women; Belarus and Montenegro in the Executive of UN Women; Romania in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Albania and Moldova in the Executive Board of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)/ UN Population Fund (UNFPA)/UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

Since the creation of the UN over 70 years ago, the post of Secretary-General has been held by: Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953); Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961); U. Thant of Burma, now Myanmar (1961-1971); Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981); Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991); Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996); Kofi Annan of Ghana (1997-2006); and Ban Ki-moon of South Korea (2007 through 2016).

The nine candidates for the post of UNSG who made their presentations to delegates recently include: Dr Srgjan Kerim of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Ms Vesna Pusic of the Republic of Croatia; Dr Igor Luksic of Montenegro; Dr Danilo Turk of Slovenia; Ms Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Ms Natalia Gherman of the Republic of Moldova and Vuk Jeremić of Serbia – all from the former Eastern Europe.

The two non-Eastern Europeans who are in the running include Helen Clark of New Zealand and Antonio Guterres of Portugal, the former from a Pacific nation and the latter from Western Europe.

When Clark was asked about Eastern European claims, she told reporters: ”When nominations were called for from Member States, they were called for from all Member States”.

“Already one senior representative from outside Eastern Europe has been nominated (Guterres of Portugal). I anticipate there will be other nominations. I judge it to be an open contest and my hope is that Member States will look at what are the challenges that the Secretary-General’s going to have to lead the organisation forward on and who has the best skills for that job.”

Currently, the strongest claims for the jobs are from women candidates.

Although the UN is one of the strongest advocates of gender empowerment, only three women have so far been elected President of the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

With women comprising half the world’s 7.2 billion people, the move to install a woman is perhaps the most legitimate of the claims.

James Paul, a former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum who monitored the politics of the UN for nearly 19 years, told IPS there is the important question of whether a woman will finally be chosen for the post and the secondary issue of whether the East European bloc will be represented.

As for the longstanding complaints about secrecy, the recently-announced “open process” and “dialogues” with candidates, provide a small step forward in what has always been an outrageously secretive procedure, he said.

“But predictably little attention is directed at the biggest issue of all – a selection still based on the will of a small oligarchic group.”

This year, as in the past, the Secretary General will effectively be chosen by the “P-5,” the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (the US, UK, France, China and Russia), Paul pointed out.

“As in previous years, there will be little reference to the will of all the other countries, the concerns of the world’s people or the pressing leadership needs of the organisation.  Polite conversation in the General Assembly will not stop the P-5 juggernaut,” he argued.

“The P-5, with Washington always in the lead, has a record of choosing weak and compliant candidates for this post – people who will reliably cater to the interests of the powerful and agree to a weak and relatively inactive UN,” said Paul, an onetime writer and consultant on several projects with Human Rights Watch, Oxford University Press and Physicians for Human Rights.

The selections of Secretary General in 2006 and 2011 showed clearly that strong and dynamic candidates are set aside, that poor performance in the job is no barrier to re-election, and that the overwhelming majority of member states – even those sitting on the Security Council – have almost no influence over the outcome, he declared.

“Could this despotic arrangement be changed in favour of a more democratic process and a far better end-result?,” he asked.

Paul said no small-scale, incremental reforms will do.  Excluded governments and ignored citizens will have to say “no” in this round and again five years from now.

“The public is increasingly fed up with those who govern.  The P-5 will not be able to continue their despotism forever.”

But in the meanwhile, can the UN survive as the climate clock ticks towards midnight?, asked Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI) told IPS the Eastern European Group was initially a political alliance supporting the former Soviet Union balancing Western Europe and Other States.

While political lines were scrambled with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed politically expedient to interpret it geographically mainly for balancing purposes, he added.

“Some would push the boundaries around to interpret it in general European terms,” he noted.

Geographical rotation was obviously not essential in electing two Scandinavians successively (Trygve Lee and Hammarskjold), he pointed out.

And a third European, an Irish General Assembly President, was in line when an Asian, U Thant became a surprise candidate, by a practical consensus, initially as “acting” UNSG, said Sanbar who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

When U Thant refused a second term “as a glorified clerk” it was not extended to another Asian. Instead Kurt Waldheim of Austria was elected.

While African diplomats presented Salim Salim of Tanzania to succeed him on geographical grounds, a Latin American Javier Perez de Cuellar was elected in a last minute vote in 1982.

As long as geographical groupings remain, however nominally, Eastern European candidates would naturally stake an obvious claim, said Sanbar.

But qualified women from anywhere in the European continent would have a more credible claim, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Will the UN’s new leader stand for the powerful or the powerless? Thu, 14 Apr 2016 21:59:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program is one of four female candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program is one of four female candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

By Lyndal Rowlands

After hundreds of questions were posed to nine candidates vying for the role of United Nations Secretary-General this week, a lasting question remains; will the UN’s new leader stand for the powerful or the powerless?

The selection of the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations has been seen as a chance for change within the 70 year old global organisation. Some see 2016 as the time for the first woman to be chosen to lead the global organisation which represents over 7 billion people. Others believe that it is time for the selection process to become more open so that all of the UN’s 193 member states get a say in who is chosen. Historically it has been the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – which have ultimately decided.

The latter concerns were in part addressed this week, with the nine candidates who have so far announced their candidacies answering questions from the UN’s 193 member states, civil society and the media during an open selection process.

Four of the nine candidates are women, also raising hopes on the gender equality front.

Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima told IPS that the next Secretary-General should not only be a woman, but that she should also be a feminist.

“It is time for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations to be a woman,” Byanyima told IPS. “She must also be a feminist, promoting women’s rights and gender equality, she must stand up for the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Byanyima.

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK agreed that the Secretary-General should be a feminist but said that the process should be open to women and men from all countries, adding that she would still love to see a woman selected. “I think that it’s appalling a sign of how bad the process is that we haven’t had good women seriously considered in the past,” said Samarasinghe.

A custom at the United Nations means that it is considered to be Eastern Europe’s turn to provide the next Secretary-General, however Europe is the only continent which is split into more than one group, making this custom open to challenges. Two of the nine candidates so far are from outside Eastern Europe.

Samarasinghe said that she hoped to see more geographically diverse candidates emerge. “It would be massively remiss of states not to put forward a developing (country) candidate,” she said.

Carne Ross, the director of Independent Diplomat told IPS that the nationality or gender of the candidate is not the most important issue. “What really matters most is somebody who’s strong who’s smart and has got the courage and the judgment to stand up to some of the unhealthily dominant powers at the UN,” said Ross.

Ross said that he believes it is still unclear whether the new more open selection process will ultimately result in a better candidate being selected.

However Samarasinghe said that the more open process was important because it reflected on the UN more broadly.

“There is a huge onus on institutions to become more transparent and inclusive,” said Samarasinghe.

You have the UN which goes around the world promoting good governance having this hugely secretive process, so I think that the process is important,” she said.

Samarasinghe said that many member states feel that “the vast majority of states are sidelined” in the selection process and that the more open process may help rebalance this relationship.

Byanyima also called for greater UN reforms, arguing that the UN needed to help the UN meet unprecedented global challenges “be it confronting protracted conflicts and a massive global displacement crisis, or tackling climate change.”

“The UN and its Security Council must undertake much-needed reforms to become more inclusive, accountable, democratic, effective, and reflective of a world in which political and economic power has shifted,” she said.

The current pool of candidates includes former heads of state and government and several current and former high level UN officials with experience working on issues representing the world’s poor and vulnerable, experience also reflected in their answers this week. For example Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program told journalists of her intentions to be a “voice for the voiceless” and Antonio Guterres, of Portugal, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees told journalists of how his experience volunteering with the homeless had inspired his career in politics.

Yet it remains possible that none of the nine candidates who have so far made their campaigns public will ultimately be chosen.

“In the past it was the best strategy for the candidates to hang back and go quietly lobby in the P5 (permanent five members of the Security Council) capitals but this time around I think there is a transparent open process that they cannot ignore,” said Samarasinghe.

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Gender Equality and Equity in Health Will Anchor Drive Towards a Sustainable National Development Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:37:56 +0000 Sicily Kariuki and Siddharth Chatterjee Sicily K. Kariuki, (Mrs), CBS is the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Sicily K. Kariuki.  Photo Credit: @UNFPA

Sicily K. Kariuki. Photo Credit: @UNFPA

By Sicily K. Kariuki, CBS and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Last month, the Government of Kenya (GoK) in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the sidelines of the 60th Session of the UN Commission of Women in New York, launched the report on the ‘Assessment of the UNFPA Campaign to End Preventable Maternal and New-born Mortality in support of the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa’

The assessment report by Deloitte Consulting captures the important strides the country has made to significantly address disparities in advancing maternal and new-born health at all levels.

These findings manifests Government’s commitment and determination to address inequalities as envisioned by one of the key principles of Agenda 2030, by ensuring that no one is left behind.

The cornerstone of the Government’s commitment is to strengthen the partnerships between GoK, development partners, and other stakeholders nationally, regionally and globally.

This manifested in March 2015, His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a high-level meeting in Nairobi which engaged religious leaders as key partners in fighting against social and cultural drivers that inhibit women’s empowerment, many of which contribute to their poor sexual and reproductive health.

That advocacy drive by the Government of Kenya and UNFPA has culminated in an innovative project that is now being implemented in six of the forty seven counties with the highest maternal and child deaths.

The program in Kenya’s underserved counties by public and private partners together with UN agencies is a good benchmark in identifying the sub-populations that are not obtaining health care, the reasons for those barriers, and the actions that can be taken to remove them.

The project recognizes that to achieve health equity, gender equality, and fulfil the right to health as guaranteed in the Constitution, it is essential to identify the underlying causes of health inequalities. This calls for a need to look inwards, rather than global indicators. It is only by identifying the disadvantaged or excluded groups, that evidence-based policies, programs and practices can be designed and inequalities tackled effectively.

The focus on 15 counties that bear 98.7% of all maternal deaths in the country was preceded by a survey undertaken by one of Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning -University of Nairobi, which revealed the multiple challenges faced by these communities. These challenges include various historical and cultural reasons that disadvantage the most vulnerable, invariably female, poor, rural and thus voiceless and marginalized.

In short, while national averages are important for monitoring overall progress, it is time to realize that these national indicators do not provide the complete picture. One example should suffice: in 2014, the national female genital mutilation prevalence rate in Kenya dropped to 21% from 27% in 2009. However, in the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- no one can be left behind, focus should remain on the communities where prevalence rate still stands as high as 98%.

The SDGs now emphasize the need for active focus on equity, gender and human rights, specifically Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries and the role of health services in securing national and global peace. There is general consensus that health can serve as a bridge for peace and can have collateral benefits, including nipping in the bud some of the drivers of violent extremism.

It is also apt because some of the counties with high maternal death burden are also prone to internal conflicts, feelings of exclusion and poverty that drive extremism.

Reproductive health complications represent a hideous feedback loop, as they are not only the result of poverty, but also contribute to poverty.

In addressing access to reproductive health matters and gender equality, there is no space for complacency. We are talking about sheer survival not just of the women but of the entire nation. Healthier women mean healthier children and that means thriving societies.

As the UNDP Administrator, Ms Helen Clark remarked, “Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies.” A good place to begin is empowering Kenya’s youth, especially girls. The multiplier effect of girls’ education on several aspects of development is now well documented. Education reduces high fertility rates, lowers infant and child mortality rates, lowers maternal mortality rates and increases labour force participation.

Empowering, educating and employing Kenya’s women and girls will launch our economy to new heights and ensure Kenya reaps a demographic dividend. His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stressed that “Progress for women is progress for all …….”

For development to be sustainable and resilient, it must be inclusive and equitable, given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must and not an option.


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Reaping the Gender Dividend Mon, 21 Mar 2016 11:07:09 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

For the first time, an all-female flight crew recently operated a Royal Brunei Airlines jet from Brunei to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Such a feat certainly appears noteworthy in a country where gender segregation is pervasive. When women are still not permitted to drive a car; where there are separate entrances for men and women in banks, is there a possibility of an all-female crew operating a Saudi Airlines plane from Jeddah to Brunei? Not immediately, as there are disturbing signs that the limited gains on the gender front might face reversals.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

To be sure, official Saudi attitudes to female pilots are not that rigid as is the case with women driving passenger cars. A couple of years ago, a Saudi woman, Hanadi al-Hindi, became the first to be licensed to fly and she has been followed by others. This was largely because of pressure from a billionaire who wanted her to pilot his small and wide-bodied luxury planes. But the numbers of female pilots are still too small to envision an all-female flight deck crew operating the national flagship carrier. Reform to ease the rigours of gender discrimination is still twisting in the wind.

Paradoxically, Saudi women occupy only 13 per cent of job positions in the private and public sector despite accounting for 51 per cent of graduates according to the central department of statistics and information. More and more women are getting educated both at home and abroad but their participation in the labour market is limited. Only 2 per cent of lawyers in the country are women. Women vote and participate in elections. But only 18 per cent of them in the age group 15-59 years are either employed or looking for work. Their rate of joblessness among women is high at 33 per cent.

How does one interpret these dismal numbers? A conservative view is that women are not used to working and have got used to stay at home. Another is that the 33 per cent number reflects a desire on their part to search for work. An unemployed person is not only out of work but is also actively searching for it. The high rate of unemployment thus reflects a situation where job openings are much less than the demand for work. The bogey that they prefer to stay at home is not quite true as more and more women are getting out of the house to take up or seek employment.

According to an article by Elizabeth Dickinson in Foreign Policy, two-income families have become the norm in Saudi Arabia. As many as 1.3 million out of 1.9 million women in the workforce are married. The latest numbers also indicate that the number of female employees rose by 48 per cent since 2010. These trends are very much in line with economic development and urbanisation. The growing number of nuclear families with both the husband and wife working to support a middle-class standard of living has been observed elsewhere in the developing world.

Interestingly, the current juncture of low oil prices offers the best prospect for Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries in West Asia to reap a gender dividend. Oil prices have fallen off the cliff from over $114 per barrel in June 2014 to $40 per barrel. They are expected to stay low in the near future as well, which seriously strains the finances of the Saudi government. With back-to-back double digit budgetary deficits – the gap between dwindling revenues from selling cheaper and cheaper oil and rising expenditures, the decks are being cleared for swingeing cuts in subsidies and reform.

So long as crude prices remain low, Saudi Arabia’s royal family must look to a future beyond oil. Following Thomas Friedman’s first law of petropolitics, there is an inverse relation between oil prices and economic freedom and reform. Reformists like Muhammad bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defence minister are now talking about diversifying into mining, subsidy reforms, expanding religious tourism, leveraging unutilised assets, among other ideas. Foreign investments are being attracted. The big global banks are opening branches in the royal kingdom.

More jobs in the private sector are bound to be created. Unlike in the past when expatriate labour would take them up, the preference now is for using educated Saudi youth. Employing more Saudi women could be part of this emerging scenario. But this is not a done deal as the Saudi government is desperately trying to control the supply of oil to ensure that prices head up from $40 a barrel to a more comfortable range of $60 to $80 a barrel. Leading oil producers thus are contemplating a freeze in output when meet in Doha on April 17. Rising and high oil prices weaken the hand of reformers.

There are signs that this is already happening with the return of more conservative elements. The limited gains in on the gender front in Saudi Arabia thus are tenuous when compared to the situation in other Gulf economies like Bahrain. Even in Iran, the situation is much better. UAE recently appointed women as state ministers for happiness, and tolerance and a 22 year-old to head youth affairs. In contrast, the only female deputy education minister in the Saudi government lost her job last year. An all-female Saudi fight deck crew might have to wait for some more time!


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UN Laboriously Strives for its First Female Secretary-General Sat, 19 Mar 2016 06:33:29 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the only female candidate failed in her attempt to become UN Secretary-General back in late 2006, an Asian diplomat weighed in with an upgraded Biblical quote: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”, he said, “than for a woman to become the Secretary-General of the United Nations.”

But as an unrelated New Yorker cartoon jokingly pronounced: “We (may still) need either bigger needles or smaller camels.”

That female candidate, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, never made it to the 38th floor of the UN Secretariat, the office of the UN chief.

The other six candidates in that race were all men: UN Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor of India; former Foreign Minister Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan; Jordanian Ambassador Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein; Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai; and UN Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka.

The sixth male candidate, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, was eventually elected Secretary-General (SG), and took office in January 2007.

For most of the 70 years of its existence, the UN has remained mostly male dominated as part of an embedded political culture.

But that environment appears to change – although appearances are known to be deceptive, and politically so, in the world body.

However, if the current campaign for a woman Secretary-General picks up steam, there is still a chance the UN will get its historic first later this year—in a world where nearly half of the 7 billion people are women.

For the first time in the history of the UN, the President of the 193-member General Assembly (GA) Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark says he is committed to an “open and transparent process” for the selection and appointment of the next Secretary-General.

All member States have been invited to present candidates to the President of the General Assembly, as well as to the President of the Security Council. As of last week, there were seven officially declared candidates, four men and three women.

The list includes: Dr. Srgjan Kerim of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Ms Vesna Pusić of the Republic of Croatia; Dr. Igor Lukšić of Montenegro; Dr. Danilo Türk of Slovenia; Ms. Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Ms. Natalia Gherman of Republic of Moldova and Antonio Guterres of Portugal.

Jessica Neuwirth, one of the founders and Honorary President of Equality Now, told lPS: “I think the time for a woman SG has finally come – SG Ban ki-moon has said he would like for a woman to succeed him, there are member states formally endorsing the idea that it is time for a woman SG, and while there have always been qualified women for the post, there are now a number of these women who are actually campaigning for it”.

“As for the regional rotation, I think more than any region’s turn, it is women’s turn to be represented and so there could and should be some flexibility to be sure that a woman can be chosen for the post,” said Neuwirth who is the founder/director of Donor Direct Action, an offshoot of Equality Now, founded to raise funds for frontline women’s groups.

She pointed out that Equality Now launched its first call for a woman SG soon after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women.

She said the Platform for Action called for the development of “mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment to senior posts in the United Nations” and set the target of “overall gender equality, particularly at the Professional level and above, by the year 2000.”

“We are still waiting for implementation of this commitment, 16 years after the target date of 2000. Maybe if we start from the top we can actually get there,” she declared.

Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University, told IPS: “We are closer than ever before to the possibility of a woman being selected as the next SG.”

She said the more transparent process adopted by the GA this year and the growing recognition of the need for diversity in leadership, including gender as well as geography, all bode well for this to happen.

“There are a number of well qualified women from various regions whose names have been either formally nominated and/or publicly discussed, and we hope all will be given serious consideration.”

But it is critically important which woman is chosen, as a poor choice sets women up for failure. “Her gender should be a strong plus, but not her primary qualification,” said Bunch.

Her vision of the future of the United Nations in these troubled times and her ability to communicate and carry that out organizationally as well as her demonstrated commitment to the UN principles – of human rights, peace, development and gender equality – are also crucial, said Bunch who took a leading role in the campaign for the creation of UN Women.

As part of the transparency process, the President of the General Assembly will begin a series of informal dialogues with the candidates April 12 through April 14.

This meeting will provide candidates a platform to present their candidature and an opportunity for the 193 member states to ask questions and grill the candidates. The candidates will be offered a two-hour meeting for individual presentations.

Meanwhile, there is a global campaign by a collective group of NGOs called “1 for 7 Billion” demanding an open election process “which until now has been shrouded in secrecy.”

The group criticizes the “woefully inadequate way in which the Secretary-General has been elected to date by a handful of powerful countries (read: the five permanent members of the Security Council) behind closed doors.”
Last year The Colombian Ambassador Maria Emma Mejia circulated a letter seeking support for a female Secretary-General. Over 44 governments initially signed on to the initiative.

But not the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council – the US, UK, France, China and Russia – who have always had the final say on the selection of the Secretary-General.

Russia has already made a statement that the job should go to the most competent person – irrespective of gender.

But it is rooting for an Eastern European on the basis of geographical rotation because the last eight UN chiefs have come from Western Europe (3), Asia (2), Africa (2) and Latin America (1).

A senior US woman journalist, who was at one-time based at the United Nations, told IPS: “My instinct is that the choice of a woman could be very narrow, since there are no obvious candidates — and I see that the US has been critical lately of the management of UNDP.”

“I don’t think Washington is focused very much on this with the pandemonium going on in the primary races. And the Russian nomination of a woman from Moldova looks more like mischief than anything else.”

Incidentally, she said, former UN Under-Secretary-General Angela Kane would like to be on that list, but hasn’t got any backing from her home country, Germany.

The current Secretary-General’s all-male predecessors were: Kofi Annan (Ghana), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt), Javier Pèrez de Cuèllar (Peru), Kurt Waldheim (Austria), U.Thant (Burma, now Myanmar), Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden) and Trygve Lie (Norway).

The writer can be contacted at

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Are We “Celebrating” Women Again? Tue, 08 Mar 2016 08:02:55 +0000 Catherine Bertini Catherine Bertini, currently Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and a distinguished fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, was a former Executive Director of United Nations World Food Programme (1992-2002). Throughout her life, Ms. Bertini has put advancement of women and decreasing hunger at the core of her agenda. She is a World Food Prize Laureate and has been accorded with numerous awards, commendations and honorary degrees.]]>

Catherine Bertini, currently Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and a distinguished fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, was a former Executive Director of United Nations World Food Programme (1992-2002). Throughout her life, Ms. Bertini has put advancement of women and decreasing hunger at the core of her agenda. She is a World Food Prize Laureate and has been accorded with numerous awards, commendations and honorary degrees.

By Catherine Bertini
Syracuse, NY, USA, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

It is time to “celebrate” International Women’s Day (IWD) again. Celebrating women sounds like a positive, upbeat action. We can note women’s increasing roles in government, in business, and as leaders of civil society. We can also describe how women are the backbone of every community and virtually every family.

Catherine Bertini

Catherine Bertini

What we can’t do is celebrate the facts that women are still less literate than men, and that girls are not yet in school, especially secondary school, in the same numbers as boys. We cannot celebrate that women often cannot own or inherit property, nor qualify for loans. We can’t yet highlight that women are excluded from many careers and almost forced into others. And we surely can’t be happy in the huge wage gap between women and men.

We cringe when thinking of violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those kidnapped in Nigeria who are still not yet home.

Perhaps then, we can use the occasion of IWD to highlight a few important facts:

• Educated girls earn more income, have fewer and healthier children, are more productive farmers, have healthier families, and send their own children to school.
• Women are ten times more likely to use their income to support the nutritional wellness of their families than are men.
• Women carry out at least two full time jobs each day – one to earn money or grow food, another to feed and care for their families.
• Women pay back loans at far higher rates than most men.
• GDPs of countries rise when more women are educated.
With these types of outcomes and import, why is it that the world does not invest directly in women and girls?

Policy makers and funders inside and outside of government, still don’t appreciate that there are gender differences that must be considered in order to maximize possibilities for poverty reduction.

For instance, women’s voices are seldom heard on what they truly need and want. Men are, more often than not, community spokespeople, and expressing the needs of women are not necessarily on their priority lists. Yet women and girls have different needs and concerns.

Men as spokespeople may ask for schools to be built, but not necessarily with adequate latrines for teenage girls. They may ask for hoes for farmers, but not the shorter hoes that many women prefer to utilize while they are carrying babies on their backs. They may hire extension workers – other men – to give agricultural advice to farmers, but in how many rural communities will women (often the majority of the farmers) take advice from a man not related to her? And men may not put a high priority on bringing perpetrators of gender based violence to justice.

So for IWY this year, rather than celebrate, let’s “commit” – commit to thinking through gender roles every time we consider a new policy or new or renewed funding. We should commit to listening to women and girls on what they need and commit to do our part to build our work around their needs. And if we are to hear women’s voices, the international community needs to include more women on our own staffs and teams.

There can be no more excuses for inaction. “There are no qualified women.” “Girls don’t really want to go to school.” “It is more important to send boys to school.” “Women are happy working at home.” And my favorite: “Our policies are gender neutral.”

Let’s throw the excuses in the dust bin of history and commit to listening to women and girls and to supporting programs they want and need. Then some year in the near future, on International Women’s Day, we can truly celebrate women and their major impact on ending poverty throughout the world.


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Step It Up for Gender Equality Mon, 07 Mar 2016 21:59:33 +0000 Ambassador Walther Lichem

Walther Lichem , former Austrian Ambassador is President of IPS

By Ambassador Walther Lichem
VIENNA, Austria, Mar 7 2016 (IPS)

In 1911, more than one million men and women attended rallies to commemorate the first International Women’s Day. Demonstrators advocated for an end to gender discrimination and for the promotion of women’s rights to work, vote, receive an education, and hold public office.

Ambassador Walther Lichem

Ambassador Walther Lichem

A century later, there is a rising recognition of the special role and capacities women in leadership provide for enhanced societal cohesion, community and peace. Women are becoming the bearers of horizontally structured interactions in partnership against still prevailing vertical patterns of command, leadership and conflict. As we enter this International Women’s Day we have to recognize that we have made great strides in women’s empowerment but still face continued marginalization of women in public space and significant gender inequality.

While the percentage of women in parliament has nearly doubled in the last two decades, this translates to only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians.

In most countries, women earn 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages and must shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work.

The fight for women’s equality and justice does not end in the public arena; we must continue to protect women’s rights in the private sphere. No longer can we consider violence against women a personal issue. Over one third of women worldwide are victims of physical or sexual violence, usually by an intimate partner. Hundreds of millions of women and girls are subjected to cultural practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage.

Promoting the rights of all women is at the heart of sustainable development agenda, recently adopted by the international community at the United Nations in New York in 2015.

If half of humanity continues to face systematic discrimination and oppression, the potential for sustainable development including societal cohesion and peaceful interactions will remain similarly limited in scope.

To eradicate poverty and hunger, promote global sustainability, and foster peaceful societies, women must be empowered to join the processes of interaction and leadership.

This begins with education. In a world where sixteen million girls will never begin school compared to eight million boys, the Sustainable Development goals are simply unachievable.

We cannot begin to do the work for all people and our planet until women are offered the opportunities to realize their potential and contribute to development efforts.

Women’s voices must be heard through political leadership, through free press, and through social and economic empowerment.

We are all called to join the conversation on women’s rights and empowerment – not as men and boys or women and girls, but as global citizens seeking a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world for all.


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Women’s Political Participation Slows, New Report Shows Mon, 07 Mar 2016 19:25:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day March 8, the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) revealed a disappointing low for women’s participation in parliament.

The new Women In Parliament 2015 report has found that women’s parliamentary representation increased only by 0.5 percent in 2015.

Though women currently account for 22.6 percent of the world’s members of parliament (MPs), described as the largest proportion than ever before, progress has slowed since 2013, which saw a 1.5 percent increase in women MPs.

“IPU’s 2015 statistics on women in parliament underline the urgent need for creative solutions and changing mindsets if there is any chance of meeting goals on political participation and empowerment,” said IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong during the launch of the report.

Such goals are included in the newly adopted 2030 Agenda, which aim to achieve women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making.

In a message marking International Women’s Day, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that greater participation of women is a necessity to achieve the agenda: “To arrive at the future we want, we cannot leave anyone behind.”

According to the report, the Asia-Pacific region experienced the greatest stagnation, registering just a 0.1 percent increase in the number of women MPs. IPU noted this was due not only to countries’ failures to meet their 30 percent target, but also the existence of widespread discrimination and prejudice against women in politics.

In Myanmar, as Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi campaigned for presidency in 2015, the 800 women who ran for parliament faced harassment as their campaign posters were ripped down and false and fabricated information was distributed. Some candidates even turned down nominations due to family concerns.

In other countries, political violence proved to be another challenge for women’s parliamentary participation.

During the Nigerian elections in 2015, numerous party members, supporters and voters were killed. There were also reports of vote-buying and false declaration of results, hindering the inclusion of women in politics. Women won only 5.6 percent of seats in Nigeria’s lower house.

However, some major gains were also made for women in politics around the world, IPU stated.

The number of women Speakers of parliament increased globally to an all-time high, as women now comprise of 17.9 percent of all Speakers. Namibia, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) particularly made history by swearing in their first ever woman Speaker.

In the Americas, the number of women MPs rose by 0.8 percent to 27.2 percent, the highest of all the regions. Suriname made the most significant progress, with an increase of 15.7 percentage points in women’s representation.

In Canada, newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet. While explaining this decision, Trudeau stated: “Because it’s 2015.”

Chungong noted that government leaders, including in Canada, have been setting the pace on equal participation of women at the ministerial level. “Parliaments must not lag behind,” he continued.

In its report, IPU urged for the implementation and enforcement of quotas to ensure the inclusion of women in parliament. It also highlighted the need to provide access to campaign financing as well as encouraging political parties to change the status quo by facilitating women’s political participation.

Mlambo-Ngcuka also emphasized the importance of such action, pointing out “the participation of women at all levels and the strengthening of the women’s movement has never been so critical, working together with boys and men, to empower nations, build stronger economies and healthier societies.”


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El Salvador Pension Reform Could Take Women into Account Wed, 17 Feb 2016 14:17:21 +0000 Edgardo Ayala María Elena Rodríguez, 54, makes a living selling fruit at a street stand in San Salvador. She forms part of El Salvador’s informal economy, where workers are not covered by the pension system and women are a majority. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

María Elena Rodríguez, 54, makes a living selling fruit at a street stand in San Salvador. She forms part of El Salvador’s informal economy, where workers are not covered by the pension system and women are a majority. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Feb 17 2016 (IPS)

El Salvador is debating reforms of the country’s privatised pension system, which could introduce changes so that it will no longer discriminate against women.

“The pension system has a male-centred, patriarchal focus that fails to take into account the specific differences that women face in the world,” said Marta Zaldaña, secretary general of the Federation of Independent Associations and Unions of El Salvador (FEASIES).

The head of FEASIES, which groups more than 20 trade unions, told IPS that one example of the sexist treatment received by women is the 115,000 domestic workers who are completely outside the system, with no right to a pension or even the minimum wage, or any other kind of protection or regulation.

People working in the informal sector of the economy, 65 percent of whom are women, do not pay into the system and will have no right to a retirement pension, economist Julia Evelin Martínez, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University School of Economy, told IPS.“The reform should be an opportunity to redesign the pension system from the very foundations, in order for it to offer equal benefits to men and women.” -- Julia Evelin Martínez

The system was designed “based on the labour experiences and lives of men,” she said.

María Elena Rodríguez, 54, a street vendor who sells fruit at a stand on a San Salvador street, said the outlook for her old age is grim.

“I don’t have any coverage, I pray that the lord will give me the strength to work until I’m 65, and then I’ll ask my children to put me in an old-age home, because I don’t have any pension, I have nothing,” Rodríguez told IPS as she sold papaya slices to passersby.

She has three children, but says she doesn’t “want to be a burden for anyone,” adding that after a life of hard work, she should have the right to an old age without worries.

Lawmakers did not create rules enabling people in the informal sector of the economy to be covered by the system, which only applies to formally employed wage-earners.

With contributions by their employers, those covered by the system pay 13 percent of their wages into individual accounts managed by the pension fund administrators (AFPs), which take a 2.2 percent commission and invest the money.

Since late 2015, the government, the business community, academics and social organisations have been discussing what to do with the pension system which, since it was privatised in 1998, has neither expanded coverage nor improved pensions, as promised.

According to official figures, as of November 2015, 2.7 million people were enrolled in the pension savings system (SAP), in this country of 6.3 million people with an economically active population (EAP) of 2.8 million.

But 65.7 percent of the EAP works in the informal sector, while only 24.7 percent actually pays into the system, despite the fact that nearly everyone is formally enrolled, because at some point they registered and their names are still in the system.

That means only one out of four people in the EAP will have coverage when they retire, and many of these will draw very small pensions.

The debate is currently focused on how to improve returns in the pension funds, which were worth a total of 7.3 billion dollars in November. If the returns increase, pensions will grow.

Around 58 percent of that total is invested in pension investment certificates issued by the state, with low interest rates between 1.4 and three percent. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where the returns are higher, although the risks are too.

The government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén wants to go even further, proposing a reform to create a mixed system that would include the private pension fund administrators – an idea that is opposed by the business community and the right-wing opposition.

Little information about the proposed reform has come out. But the government is reportedly proposing that workers who earn less than 484 dollars a month would be covered by a public system, and the rest by a mixed one.

In this debate, “we want to incorporate a gender perspective in the pensions system,” said Zaldaña, who also belongs to a group fighting for decent jobs for women, the CEDM.

The government acknowledges that women face unequal conditions. They retire at the age of 55, compared to 60 for men, which means they pay less into their accounts, and thus receive lower pensions when they retire.

To that is added the fact that they earn 15 percent less than men on average, even though on average women have more years of formal schooling, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2015.

The lower their wages, the less they pay into their individual accounts, under the current system.

“The problem is that culturally the population still has no awareness about the inequality in wages,” a public employee in a government office, Johana Peña, told IPS.

Roberto Lorenzana, the president’s secretary on technical questions, said in remarks to the government online news outlet Transparencia Activa that the gender imbalance is “a problem that we need to address” in any future reform.

He said the government’s position on this has points in common with that of the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the country’s two AFPs.

However, it is unclear as to what changes are proposed to move in that direction, and Lorenzana and René Novellino, executive director of ASAFONDOS, did not respond to requests from IPS for an interview to discuss the issue.

Martínez, the researcher, believes the debate should look at the foundations of a system that is unfair to women – a problem that she said is not only seen in private systems.

“The reform should be an opportunity to redesign the pension system from the very foundations, in order for it to offer equal benefits to men and women,” she said.

The economist pointed out, for example, that women with formal jobs stop paying into the system during their four months of maternity leave. If they have an average of three children, they will have stopped paying towards their retirement for an entire year.

That time lost is added to the five years that they do not pay into the system as they retire earlier than men.

“This creates a distortion, a gap, a discontinuity, which is reflected in their labour history,” said Martínez.

Zaldaña, the head of FEASIES, said these gap periods should be counted as time worked, and the state should contribute the funds to make up for that lost time. This proposal has been presented to Lorenzana, she said.

A similar reform was implemented in July 2009 in Chile, where the government offers a bonus per child to each female worker.

The economist Martínez is pleased that the trade union movement is pushing for these changes, while she lamented that women’s rights groups in El Salvador have not taken up the battle.

Meanwhile, Rodríguez said, without slowing down in her sales of fruit to her customers, that she scrapes by “with the few cents that I make from my fruit stand, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m old.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English! Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: | 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: | 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 Summit Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

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

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Spanish Member of Congress Causes Controversy after Breastfeeding in Parliament Mon, 25 Jan 2016 18:01:04 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo 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? Wed, 20 Jan 2016 18:03:17 +0000 Baher Kamal 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 Women Mon, 18 Jan 2016 17:13:01 +0000 Baher Kamal 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 UN Tue, 12 Jan 2016 08:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

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.
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

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Brazil 2015: The Year When Everything Went Wrong Wed, 30 Dec 2015 08:15:23 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

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.


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Saudi Women Make Huge Advances After Victory in Polls Thu, 24 Dec 2015 20:54:33 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie 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 Unions Wed, 18 Nov 2015 08:11:27 +0000 Harikrishnan 0