Inter Press Service » Women in Politics http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Goals for Gender Equality Are Not a ‘Wish List’ – They Are a ‘To Do List’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:49:39 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139408 A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women – but then, women usually didn’t write it.

This meeting will be an opportunity to take a hard look at the world that is, and the world that will be. The case is urgent, not only for individual women and their human right to equality, but for everyone. The “perfect storm of crises” as one expert has called it, threatens food, energy and water supplies. It threatens political and economic stability in all our countries. It could upend any prospects for balanced and sustainable development.

On the other hand, mobilising the potential of women and maximising their contribution will turn aside some of the worst effects of climate change and help ensure food and water supply; will help correct massive economic inequality between the few and the many; will mitigate conflict and political instability, and help to build lasting peace. Women’s rights are human necessities.

At the heart of our discussion is how to put more women in positions of power. Across the 192 U.N. member countries:

  • Only 19 women are heads of state or government;
  • One in five parliamentarians are women;
  • One in 20 city mayors are women;
  • One in four judges and prosecutors, and
  • Fewer than one in 10 police officers are women.

Women leaders are just as hard to find in economic life – only one in five board seats in major companies are held by women. And this is despite evidence of increased company earnings when women are on the board!

So how do we get there from here? We already have a road map. It was agreed by 189 world leaders back in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Countries have made a good start with better overall education and health care for women; but they haven’t followed through on the rest of the package, especially political participation and economic empowerment. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. Women, and their countries, can’t wait that long.

This year, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, the year when the U.N. will adopt sustainable development goals for the next 15 years, offers a unique opportunity to make a new start.

First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.

Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.

Leaders who lead by example in their daily lives will win allies in every aspect of their work for gender equality. They can win allies in the media too – at least to avoid reflexive disparagement, negative stereotyping and casual sexism; and at best to celebrate the positive and constructive contribution of women leaders, even in the toughest environments.

Then there are many women who struggle and suffer every day. They are the everyday heroines of our age, and their fight for equality deserves a wider audience. We shouldn’t have to wait for another vicious attack or another assassination before we learn their names.

These measures sound ambitious, but they are fully realistic. We know from our own experience in leadership, that we can achieve them all. The 1995 Beijing platform for action is not a “wish list”; it’s a “to do list.” If today’s leaders front-load gender equality, if they start now to make good on those 20-year-old promises, we can look forward to serious progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, “but it bends toward justice.” Where women are concerned, we have to bend that arc a lot faster now, to make up for all the years it didn’t bend at all. At stake are not only justice and human rights but also perhaps survival itself.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Report Cries out on Behalf of Iraqi Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:35:58 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139284 No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Iraqi women continue to be subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict concludes that attacks on women – conducted by both pro- and anti-government militias across the country – are a war tactic in Iraq, and emphasises that while women are punished for the aggressions they have endured, their perpetrators are absolved from punishment under Iraqi Penal Code.

“Women are threatened by all sides of the conflict: by the armed groups which threaten, kill, and rape them; by the male-dominated security and police forces which fail to protect them and are often complicit in violence against them; and by criminal groups which take advantage of their desperate circumstances.

“They are simultaneously betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of gender-based violence to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,” the report says in its opening remarks.

The rights of women are based on conditions and Taliban-style “moral” codes forbidding women from wearing gold or leaving home without a male relative.“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians... are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.” -- Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

The report also points out the development of threats against female doctors, educators, lawyers and journalists.

Sexual assault is another major preoccupation, along with the commodification, disappearances, captivity and torture of women.

Yezidi (Kurdish) women are reported to be targeted on a massive scale, and many are said to be sold as sexual slaves or forced to marry ISIS fighters.

Human trafficking “has mushroomed in recent years” according to the report, which describes related prostitution rings.

Breakdown in Iraqi society

IPS spoke with Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which delivered the report.

He said part of the challenge is Iraq’s “very poor rule of law”, and elements of its criminal code that “discriminate against women and enable abusers to get away with assaulting and even sometimes killing women”.

He also spoke of a long-term breakdown in Iraqi society, which has led to an explosion of violence against women in Iraq.

“What has happened in Iraq is not the story just of the last six months,” Lattimer told IPS. “It’s a story of the last 12 years.”

Before coming up with top-down military strategies that involve arming factions and further engaging in violence, he said, Iraqi civilians – especially the women – need to be listened to.

“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians there are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.”

The international community

“It’s no longer possible to talk about Iraq, which doesn’t involve international engagement, or involvement,” Lattimer told IPS.

“There are many other states that are intimately involved in what is happening in Iraq,” he said, referring to countries like neighbouring Gulf States that give large amounts of money to various armed opposition groups.

The Iranian government supports the Iraqi authorities militarily, and the U.S. and members of the coalition are engaged in bombing raids and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

He stressed that the states with influence over the Iraqi government, including the U.S. and parts of Europe “need to make it very clear, that their support for Iraq doesn’t involve or shouldn’t include giving a carte blanche to the Shi’a militias”.

Numerous recommendations are made in the report, to the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government and the international community.

They include amending the criminal code in Iraq, preventing the transfer of resources to dangerous parties, recruiting women into the police force, improving support to female survivors of abuse, and promoting the accountability of those responsible for violations of international law.

Shatha Besarani is a woman’s rights activist and member of the Iraqi Women’s League and public relations person for the league in the UK.

She says she has seen similar reports come out in previous years with nearly identical recommendations.

“(There are) so many reports on exactly the same subject of concern to Iraqi women, which is violence. All these years, since 2003, it got worse and worse and worse, and now it’s got to the point where the women started to be sold and bought like cattle,” she told IPS.

“I have one concern, while these reports are coming out,” she said.

“I want to know how much these reports are getting into women’s lives, how much they’re improving women’s lives, and how much they are affecting this bloody Iraqi government, which one after another is coming with all these Islamist issues, and they don’t do anything about women.”

According to Besarani, what has happened to Iraqi women cannot even be measured.

“Do we really have a justice system, which brings a man who burns his wife to justice?” she asks. 

“No.”

“We have women to be blamed but we never heard of a man to be blamed.”

She wishes to see a body hold the government or responsible party to account, and have them be asked “again and again and again: What have you done? Is there anything really factual and statistical and real on real grounds being done?”

In her view, women’s organizations, NGOs, and small independent organizations are needed for this cause as much as the U.N. and big alliances.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“HeForShe” Campaign Moves to the Next Stagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 23:25:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139228 Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

It launched in a blaze of social media glory with a viral speech that rocketed around the world, and five months on from the launch of U.N. Women’s groundbreaking HeForShe campaign, the real work is well underway.

The campaign, designed to recruit men and boys as key players in the gender equality movement, burst into life in September 2014 with a passionate speech from British actress Emma Watson on the floor of the United Nations in New York City.

The Harry Potter star’s speech has since been seen by millions around the globe, as the HeForShe launch and Watson’s remarks went viral worldwide.

“I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop,” she said at the U.N.

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals… How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

HeForShe asks men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality, to address inequality and discrimination faced by women worldwide. The overarching goal is gender equality by 2030.

U.N. Women presented a campaign update to the U.N. on February 9, outlining its accomplishments so far: billions of media impressions; millions of dollars donated; over 200,000 men pledging their support to the movement; and the new “Impact 10x10x10” program to bring on governments, universities and corporations as partners, recently launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.” -- Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women

“Once men start questioning the dynamics of gender inequality, men take responsibility for changing them, alongside women,” the U.N. Women briefing heard.

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor at U.N. Women and head of the HeForShe campaign, called it a “rallying call” and “solidarity movement for gender equality.”

“We need to shift the way things have been done. A new approach was needed, there is a need for men to be part of this dialogue,” she told IPS.

“This is something that can’t just be for women alone to solve. It’s about men recognizing this is their struggle too.”

Just five months old, HeForShe is arguably already one of the most well recognised gender equality campaigns to ever exist, but women’s groups hold mixed opinions on the goals, ideology and value of the movement.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS she was concerned that, ironically, men were seemingly being valued more than women in this gender equality campaign.

“The concern is that it is very easy for women’s voices to be usurped. That in shifting the focus to men, you run the risk of making women invisible again,” Gerntholtz said.

“There needs to be a conscious effort to keep women’s voices front and centre of these campaigns.”

She spoke of attending women’s rights conferences and summits where the entire panel of speakers were men, without a single female voice.

“Even in the U.N., with explicit decisions to look for gender parity in a discussion, I’ve been to events and panels that are all men. [HeForShe] might run the risk of replicating these risks of inequality and disempowerment,” Gerntholtz said.

Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women, said HeForShe was a good starting point but was not the miracle cure for gender equality.

“The campaign does not address all the aspects of equality that need to be addressed. It simply says, feminism is good for men and for women, and that’s indisputable,” she told IPS.

“I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.”

Gerntholtz was skeptical of HeForShe’s broad goal “to end gender inequality by 2030,” as outlined by said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“What are the indicators of gender equality that we are talking about? Is it access to education, participation in government and the corporate sector, a reduction in the number of women experiencing violence? The difficulty in an aim like that is it is very vague,” Gerntholtz said.

“It is important, what we use as markers on the road. It is an ambitious goal.”

When asked by IPS what indicators HeForShe would measure when assessing gender equality, Nyamayaro did not point to any specific examples.

“We’re looking for parity across every single level of society, whether in the home, workplace or community,” she said.

“We’re looking for lasting, concrete change… action from the grassroots, bottom up.”

Nyamayaro pointed out the Impact 10x10x10 project as HeForShe’s next substantial action, where she hoped meaningful change could be accomplished.

A one-year pilot initiative, the project will “engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality,” according to a release from U.N. Women.

“Each sector will identify approaches for addressing gender inequality, and pilot test the effectiveness of these interventions,” the release continues.

Nyamayaro said 10x10x10 would be a key part of HeForShe’s upcoming agenda, with further plans to be unveiled on International Women’s Day in March and a big one-year anniversary celebration in September.

“A lot needs to be done at the government and corporate level, and in terms of universities, with half the world’s population under 30 and the amount of violence on college campuses, we thought we could really do something there,” she said.

While Gerntholtz made clear her reservations over HeForShe, she said she generally supported the campaign’s goals.

“The women’s movement has been moving towards understanding that we need to include men and boys in the solution. We can’t just see them as perpetrators of violence, but as partners in eradicating violence,” she said.

“Using Emma Watson helps popularise feminism and makes it a legitimate choice for young men. It’s important she reaches the next generation, who will hopefully take leadership roles.”

O’Neill said the National Organisation for Women looked forward to tracking the progress of HeForShe.

“It’s really all hands on deck. We need all the help we can get,” she said.

“We need the U.N. to be loud and strong for women’s equality. HeForShe is one part of what’s needed, but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshbutler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Debating U.S. Foreign Policy: Where are the Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 22:25:07 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139058 By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

Women are running some of the United States’ most prominent foreign policy focused think tanks, leading U.S. diplomatic initiatives, and reporting from the front lines of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones.

But there’s a dearth when it comes to women’s voices in U.S. media coverage of foreign policy issues, according to the founders of a new organisation that aims to amplify women’s voices in the media.“Those who say that they make an effort to include women but cannot find any are pushing a load of BS.” -- Suzanne Dimaggio

“There is a disparity between the number of women [and men] we see commenting on foreign policy issues,” said Foreign Policy Interrupted co-founder Elmira Bayrasli to a packed room of women (and a few men) Feb 4. at the Washington-based New America, a non-profit public policy institute and think tank.

While some well-known female commentators are called upon by major media outlets to “check the box,” added Bayrasli, “Every six months there’s still an uproar about ‘where are the women?’”

Absent or overshadowed?

According to data compiled by U.S. foreign policy analysts Tamara Coffman Wittes and Marc Lynch, 65 percent of last year’s Middle East events at six influential think tanks in Washington included no female speakers.

Women are also “systematically cited less than their male peers,” wrote Wittes and Lynch in a recent Washington Post op-ed discussing the gap between the considerable number of senior women in the field and their notable absence from public discourse.

With women comprising roughly half of the U.S. population, the question becomes: Is the dearth due to a lack of qualified women for media outlets to reach out to when covering foreign policy issues?

“Those who say that they make an effort to include women, but cannot find any are pushing a load of BS,” said Suzanne Dimaggio, who has been directing Track II diplomatic initiatives with several countries in the Middle East and Asia throughout her career.

“Today we see an ever-growing cadre of women with expertise on every aspect of foreign policy—from the traditional to the non-traditional and emerging issues,” Dimaggio told IPS during a telephone interview.

Bayrasli and co-founder Lauren Bohn—both commentators on international affairs—argue that women are underrepresented in media coverage of U.S. foreign policy because mainstream media has traditionally relied on male commentators and because women hold themselves to extremely high standards, which can hold them back.

In today’s fast-paced, competitive news media world, staff are scrambling to get out good information fast, so they don’t always have or take the time to look for new voices, said Bayrasli.

“The reality is that what bookers, producers and editors know is a rolodex of white men and that needs to change, but we also need to help them change that,” she said.

“I do think there’s this sense [among women that what they send to editors] has got to be really, really good, and honestly there’s a point when the best is the enemy of the ho good,” added moderator and New America president Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009-11.

Beyond checking the box

Dimaggio, a leader in facilitating U.S.-Iran policy dialogues, has a long resume of achievements in her field. But she acknowledged that especially earlier in her career, there were occasions when her abilities were underestimated because she is a woman.

“It was assumed that I would take a secondary role and men were given the last word,” said Dimaggio, an expert dialogue practitioner who runs New America’s Iran programme from New York. “But that’s not to say that I accepted playing a secondary role.”

She added that if major media outlets overlook qualified women when seeking expert commentary on foreign policy issues they should be held accountable, but more needs to be done by women as well.

“This problem won’t be resolved by only pressing those in positions of power to include more women. That certainly is a big piece of this. But, we, as women, must [also] change our own behaviour,” said Dimaggio.

“Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go,” she said.

While Foreign Policy Interrupted, though still in its launch phase, exists to help women increase and improve their media presence, at least one well-known U.S. media publication has meanwhile been actively incorporating more women into its overall operation.

In the last three years Foreign Policy Magazine, a division of the Graham Holdings company, has gone from having one to 11 female regular columnists—half of its regular roster of 22—and its editorial staff is roughly 50/50.

“We realised that the magazine needed to be better, that there were too many of the same voices, and that our publication, which covers the ‘big tent’ of foreign policy, would not be adequately representative if it didn’t include women’s voices,” Executive Editor Ben Pauker told IPS.

Although the magazine now features an equal balance of female and male columnists, the male columnists write more frequently than the women. That could be for a number of reasons.

“It’s a function of getting some of our new columnists, both male and female, up to speed,” said Pauker.

Pauker told IPS that the magazine’s equity initiative, which will extend beyond the gender issue, is still a work in progress, but said at least anecdotally the response from readers has been “enormously positive.”

“It just makes us a better publication,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Battle Heats Up Over Legalisation of Sex Work in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:10:38 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138679 The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-six-year-old Chameli Devi, a sex worker operating out of New Delhi’s G.B. Road – Asia’s largest red-light district, housing an estimated 12,000 of India’s three million sex workers – is an unhappy woman these days.

A contentious debate over the sex trade in India, following a call for legalisation by the National Commission for Women (NCW) – a state-run body that advises the government on women-related policy matters – has Devi worried.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband." -- Sarita, a 43-year-old sex worker in New Delhi
She feels that merely issuing licences or permits to people of her ilk will not lead to the improvement of the unhealthy and, at times, dangerous conditions under which commercialised prostitution functions.

According to U.N. reports, about 70 percent of sex workers in India are abused by their clients and the police. Abuse, say activists, is often under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.

“Most of us don’t take to the flesh trade out of choice but are sold by criminal mafias to brothels. The move to regulate our business will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell poor women like us while increasing trafficking of young women and children,” Devi told IPS.

A recent study conducted by the Indian philanthropic non-profit Dasra found that roughly half of trafficking victims are adolescent girls, while the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16, to 10-14, “because young girls are believed to have a lower risk of carrying a sexually transmitted disease”.

“Most victims come from rural areas, over 70 percent are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about one dollar [per day],” the report stated.

Other studies have found that most sex workers in India are form the lower castes, communities that are routinely subjected to violence and exploitation in a highly stratified society.

It is unsurprising, then, that scores of women trapped in the trade remain highly opposed to legalization.

Sarita, 43, another sex worker, feels that while there may be a sound argument for legalisation in richer countries like the USA, or even China, such a system is ill-suited to India.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband,” she asserted. “So the dynamics of our society are very different.”

Curbing the flourishing sex trade

A 2014 study, ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’, spearheaded by Indian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, contains some of the most up-to-date data on the flourishing sex trade.

“The figures are shocking…In India alone, the money generated through [the] sex trade so far stands at a whopping 343 billion dollars. Research confirms that several agencies such as traffickers, brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judiciary and to a certain level even the victims of CSE (commercial sexual exploitation) eventually receive money for participation,” Satyarthi said in the study.

According to a 2009 United Nations report, sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world, making it the largest slave trade; about 79 percent of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are not much better off. The Netherlands, which legalised prostitution in 2000, continues to grapple with human traffickers smuggling women into the country’s brothels, point out non-profits working in the area.

With the legalisation debate gaining traction, public opinion in India is also splintered over the issue. Those who favour the move feel that it will whittle down harassment, legal intimidation, entrapment and exploitation of sex workers.

NCW Chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who set the ball rolling with her suggestion that the trade be brought under state control last month, feels that such a step will ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work.

She contends it will reducing trafficking of both girls and women and improve the health conditions of sex workers who are presently forced to serve clients in unhygienic conditions and without condoms, which has caused HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread.

In fact health care experts extend some of the strongest arguments in favour of legalising prostitution, or regulating it. They feel that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, can be checked by bringing the business under the state umbrella as this will help health workers to better educate those in the trade about condom usage and basic hygiene.

Safer sex work or a massive bureaucracy?

Opponents of legalisation, however, are wary of the consequences of adding layers of regulation to India’s massive bureaucracy. They fear that government intervention could trigger harassment of the very people it seeks to protect.

“Legalising prostitution is legalising the profiteers of the sex-industry and their customers,” Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Social Research, told IPS.

“It means rape of poor, lower-caste women with impunity. Not only that, it will make India a world magnet for sex trafficking and sex tourism.”

Donna M. Hughes, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, writes in her essay ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’ that legalisation does not reduce prostitution or trafficking.

“In fact,” she writes, “both activities increase because men can legally buy sex acts, and pimps and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them … In the Netherlands, since legalisation, there has been an increase in the use of children in prostitution.”

Activists working with sex workers are also deeply divided over the issue. While Dr S. Jana, who launched the 65,000-strong sex workers’ forum — Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee — based out of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, has supported the legalisation call, others fear that it will further embolden traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

“Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers due to the loopholes in law which makes them vulnerable to abuse. If the trade is legalised, the situation will worsen,” Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, a voluntary organisation working in the field of HIV control based in Sangli, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, told IPS.

Legalisation, adds the activist, could also scupper attempts by many women’s organisations and NGOs to rehabilitate women and children forced into prostitution.

“The state should formulate policies and schemes for the rehabilitation of sex workers who are coming out of this commercial sexual exploitation. This will offer a better solution to this complex problem,” Seshu contends.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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India’s ‘Manual Scavengers’ Rise Up Against Caste Discriminationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 10:15:30 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138529 A Dalit woman stands outside a dry toilet located in an upper caste villager’s home in Mainpuri, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The village has witnessed major violence against those who have tried to leave the profession of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

A Dalit woman stands outside a dry toilet located in an upper caste villager’s home in Mainpuri, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The village has witnessed major violence against those who have tried to leave the profession of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Watching Bittal Devi deftly weave threads of different colours into a vibrant patchwork quilt, it’s hard to imagine that this 46-year-old’s hands have spent the better part of their life cleaning toilets.

Born in Sava, a village in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, Devi is from a community that, down the centuries, has worked as ‘manual scavengers’.

A caste-based profession, it condemns mostly women, but also men, to clean human excreta out of dry latrines with their hands, and carry it on their heads to disposal dumps. Many also clean sewers, septic tanks and open drains with no protective gear.

“One human being carrying the shit of another on their head is not the problem of that woman or that community alone. It’s the struggle of the people of this country and together we can abolish this.” -- Aashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, an NGO working to end the practice of 'manual scavenging'.
They are derogatorily referred to as bhangis, which translates into ‘broken identity’. Most of those employed are Dalits, who occupy the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy and are condemned to tasks that are regarded as beneath the dignity of the upper castes.

“I started doing this job when I was 12 years old,” Devi recalls. “I would accompany my mother when she went to the homes of the thakurs (upper castes) in our village everyday to clean their toilets.

“We would go to every home to pick up their faeces. We would gather it with a broom and plate into a cane basket. Later we would take the basket to the outskirts of the village and dispose [of] it.”

They cleaned 15 toilets each day, which earned them 375 rupees (a little over six dollars) per month, plus a set of old clothes from the homes they worked in, gifted once a year during the Diwali festival.

Devi remembers that she was unable to eat during the first week. “I would throw up every time my mother placed food in front of me”. Harder still to bear, were the taunts of her upper caste classmates.

“They would cover their noses and tell me that I smelled. I, along with the other children from my caste, was made to sit away from the rest of the students.” She eventually dropped out of school.

There was no question of refusing to do the work. “From birth I, like the other children from my community, was told that this was our history and our destiny,” says Devi. “This was the custom followed by our forefathers which we had to continue with.”

Caste-based discrimination or untouchability was banned in India in 1955 and several legislative and policy measures have been announced over the decades to end the cruel and inhumane custom of manual scavenging.

As recently as September 2013, the government outlawed employing anyone to clean human faeces.

On the ground, however, these measures have proved ineffective, the main reasons being that policies are not properly implemented, people are unaware that they can refuse to work as manual scavengers, and those who do resist face violence and the threat of eviction.

Women unite for change

According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which works towards the elimination of caste-based discrimination, there are an estimated 1.3 million ‘manual scavengers’ in India, most of them women.

Civil rights groups say that often women are victims twice over. Not only are they are looked down upon by the upper castes, they are also forced to do the work by their husbands who find it degrading, but expect the wives to continue with the custom.

Bittal Devi’s neighbour, Rani Devi Dhela, also started working as a manual scavenger at the age of 12, an occupation she continued with in her marital home, as her husband was unemployed.

She enrolled her four children in the village school, hopeful that education would change their future. Reality dawned when her 11- year-old daughter came back home in the middle of the day, sobbing.

“She had worn a new set of clothes to school and the upper caste children and teachers taunted her for showing off,” Dhela tells IPS.

Her daughter was told to clean up another child’s vomit and the school toilets. “When she refused they told her that this was her future as she was a bhangi’s daughter and that by attending school she should not entertain any illusions about herself.

“A teacher even threatened to pour acid into her mouth. That was the day I realised nothing would change unless I challenged these people. I put the cane basket down for good and decided that I would rather starve to death,” she adds.

At a rally in New Delhi, Dalit women burn baskets used to collect human waste as a sign of protest against the caste-based practice of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

At a rally in New Delhi, Dalit women burn baskets used to collect human waste as a sign of protest against the caste-based practice of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

It was a battle that Dhela found herself all alone in. The upper castes ganged up on her and her community failed to extend support. Worse still was the reaction from her husband and in-laws, who beat her up.

“The thakurs burned down our hut and told my husband they would throw us out. But my children supported me,” says Dhela.

Eventually so did a few other women, including Bittal Devi. Together, they travelled to a nearby town, to the office of the NGO Jan Sahas, which has been campaigning against manual scavenging for over 17 years.

“We had been trying to get the community in this village to stop manual scavenging but they were too scared to resist,” Sanjay Dumane, associate convenor of Jan Sahas, tells IPS. “After what happened to Rani Devi [Dhela], some of them decided to fight back.”

But there was fierce resistance from the village police who not only refused to register a complaint, but also advised the women to accept their place in society.

It was only after they approached police authorities at the district level that action was taken.

“A platoon of police vans came into the village with senior officers who warned the upper castes that they would be jailed if they were found violating the law on manual scavengers,” says Dumane.

An uphill battle

As of early February 2014, manual scavenging is no longer practiced in Sava village. “Some of the upper castes have chosen to boycott us,” says Dhela. “They don’t invite us to their weddings or for festivals. But my children and husband are proud of me and that makes me happy.”

“A lot of people tell me ‘You had no right to leave the profession’,” adds Archana Balnik, 28, who campaigned to put an end to manual scavenging in her village of Digambar in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. “But I want to change my future and that of the children in my village.”

Most of the women who have quit have found work in road and bridge construction projects. A few have enrolled in Dignity and Design, a low-cost, community based initiative launched by Jan Sahas in the states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh for the rehabilitation of women liberated from manual scavenging.

“We provide training in basic skills like tailoring and embroidery and have set up units for manufacturing bags, purses and other products,” Aashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, tells IPS.

“We hope to set this up across India with the support of the government and private sector.”

Women like Bittal Devi and Rani Devi Dhela are the ambassadors of Jan Sahas, which claims to have liberated over 17,000 women from manual scavenging across different parts of India.

Changing attitudes across the country, however, is an uphill battle. The recent India Human Development Survey report highlighted how deeply entrenched notions of caste purity are in contemporary Indian society, with a fourth of Indians practicing untouchability.

“There are signs of change especially in the younger generation, which is more educated,” says Shaikh, whose NGO conducts awareness campaigns in colleges and schools.

“One human being carrying the shit of another on their head is not the problem of that woman or that community alone. It’s the struggle of the people of this country and together we can abolish this.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Stand in Solidarity with Courageous Women’s Human Rights Defendershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-stand-in-solidarity-with-courageous-womens-human-rights-defenders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-stand-in-solidarity-with-courageous-womens-human-rights-defenders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-stand-in-solidarity-with-courageous-womens-human-rights-defenders/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 22:35:29 +0000 Zeid Raad Al Hussein http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138061

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and has extensive experience in international diplomacy and the protection of human rights.

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 2014 (IPS)

Almost two decades ago, in Beijing, 189 countries made a commitment to achieve equality for women, in practice and in law, so that all women could at last fully enjoy their rights and freedoms as equal human beings.

They adopted a comprehensive and ambitious plan to guarantee women the same rights as men to be educated and develop their potential. The same rights as men to choose their profession. The same rights to lead communities and nations, and make choices about their own lives without fear of violence or reprisal.

Credit: OHCHR

Credit: OHCHR

No longer would hundreds of thousands of women die every year in childbirth because of health care policies and systems that neglected their care. No longer would women earn considerably less than men. No longer would discriminatory laws govern marriage, land, property and inheritance.

In the years that followed, the world has witnessed tremendous progress: the number of women in the work force has increased; there is almost gender parity in schooling at the primary level; the maternal mortality ratio declined by almost 50 percent; and more women are in leadership positions.

Importantly, governments talk about women’s rights as human rights and women’s rights and gender equality are acknowledged as legitimate and indispensable goals.

However, the world is still far from the vision articulated in Beijing. Approximately one in three women throughout the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Less than a quarter of parliamentarians in the world are women.Attacks against women who stand up to demand their human rights and individuals who advocate for gender equality are often designed to keep women in their “place.” In some areas of the world, women who participate in public demonstrations are told to go home to take care of their children.

In over 50 countries there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. Almost 300,000 women and girls died in 2013 from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Approximately one in three married women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

In many parts of the world, women and girls cannot make decisions on their most private matters – sexuality, marriage, children. Girls and women who pursue their own life choices are still murdered by their own families in the dishonourable practice of so-called honour killings.

All of our societies remain affected by stereotypes based on the inferiority of women which often denigrate, humiliate and sexualise them.

Today we have the responsibility to protect the progress made in the past 20 years and address the remaining challenges. In doing so, we must recognise the vital role of women who defend human rights, often at great risk to themselves and their families precisely because they are viewed as stepping outside socially prescriptive gender stereotypes.

We must recognise the role of all people, women and men, who publicly call for gender equality and often, as a result, find themselves the victim of archaic and patriarchal, but powerful, threats to their reputations, their work and even their lives.

These extraordinary individuals – women’s human rights defenders – operate in hostile environments, where arguments of cultural relativism are common and often against the background of the rise of extremist, misogynistic groups, which threaten to dismantle the gains of the past.

Attacks against women who stand up to demand their human rights and individuals who advocate for gender equality are often designed to keep women in their “place.” In some areas of the world, women who participate in public demonstrations are told to go home to take care of their children.

Consider the recent example of a newspaper publishing naked photos of a woman, claiming she was a well-known activist – an attack designed to shame this defender into silence. In other places, when women claim their right to affordable modern methods of contraception, they are labelled as prostitutes in smear campaigns seeking to undermine their credibility.

Online attacks against those who speak for women’s human rights and gender equality by so-called “trolls” – who threaten heinous crimes – are increasingly reported.

These attacks have a common thread – they rely on gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched discriminatory social norms in an attempt to silence those who challenge the age old system of gender inequality. However, these defenders will not be silenced, and we must stand in solidarity with them against these cowardly attacks.

This is why my office has decided to launch a campaign to pay tribute to women and men who defy stereotypes and fight for women’s human rights. The campaign runs from Human Rights Day, Dec. 10 this year, to International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, 2015. We encourage everyone to join the ranks of these strong and inspiring advocates, on social media (#reflect2protect) and on the ground.

As we approach the 20-year anniversary of Beijing, discrimination and violence against women, and the stereotypes that confine them into narrowly fixed roles must end. Women have the right to make their own decisions about their lives and their bodies.

Guaranteeing and implementing these rights are non-negotiable obligations of all states. Women human rights defenders were instrumental in securing the ambitious programme laid out in Beijing. Their work, their activism and their courage deserve our recognition, our support and our respect.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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U.N. Chief, Under Fire, Moves Closer to Gender Parityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-chief-under-fire-moves-closer-to-gender-parity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-under-fire-moves-closer-to-gender-parity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-chief-under-fire-moves-closer-to-gender-parity/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:58:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138057 Some of the 43 military and police officers from 27 countries who received peacekeeping medals from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Some of the 43 military and police officers from 27 countries who received peacekeeping medals from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 2014 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named an international panel to review peacekeeping operations last October, the announcement was greeted with bitter criticism because it lacked even a semblance of gender balance: only three out of 14 members were women.

And perhaps adding insult to injury, the announcement was made on Oct. 31, the 14th anniversary of the historic Security Council resolution 1325 which underlined the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

“The timing of your announcement is a slap in the face to women working for peace the world over,” complained Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, and Paula Donovan, both co-directors of AIDS-Free World.

In three strongly-worded letters to the Secretary-General, Lewis and Donovan said: “In one stroke, you have succeeded in making a mockery of Resolution 1325.”

“In one stroke,” the letter further added, “you have repudiated the importance of gender equity in the appointment of high-level panels.”

And in one stroke, “you have declared to the world your view that there are no women to be found anywhere – not in politics, academe, diplomacy, civil society, or among Nobel laureates – who are qualified enough to satisfy the requirements of a panel on peace operations.”

The fallout was almost instantaneous – and mostly positive.

Firstly, the appointment last month of a new 10-member high-level panel on a technology bank for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) reflected a 50-50 gender parity: five men and five women.

Secondly, on Monday, the secretary-general, apparently responding to criticism, also doubled the number of women in the U.N. panel on peacekeeping: from three to six.

The three additional women to the Panel are: Dr. Marie-Louise Baricako from Burundi, Dr. Rima Salah from Jordan and Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka.

In addition, Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh, the current under-secretary-general for the Department of Field Support and an original member of the panel, will serve as vice-chair following her retirement from the United Nations on Feb. 1, 2015.

A statement released Monday said “the Secretary-General is confident the addition of three eminent women and the role Ms. Haq will play as Vice-Chair will not only bring gender balance to the panel, but also enrich its work, particularly on issues relating to women, peace and security.”

Asked for his comments, Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, long considered the prime initiator and “father of the 1325 Security Council resolution”, told IPS: “It is welcome news – at least as a step forward towards our goal of 50-50 equality.”

He said listening to the voice of civil society is considered meaningful in making U.N. decision-making more broad-based and people-oriented.

When the initial criticism surfaced, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, “I guess this is one case where we have to just make a very sincere apology.

“We try as hard as we can to get the right gender balance and the right regional balance for these very large panels, and sometimes it’s a question of availability,” he added. “But when we make a mistake on that, you’re absolutely right, that’s a low number, and well have to do better.”

Chowdhury said: “Personally, I believe a woman should have been made the co-chair and not vice-chair of the Peace Panel.”

A key objective of Security Council’s history-making resolution 1325 is to achieve women’s equality of participation at all decision making levels, he added.

Also, it makes sense to have the two top persons of the panel representing two different geographic regions of the world, said, Chowdhury,, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative.

Donovan of AIDS-Free World told IPS the secretary-general’s actions came a bit closer to matching his rhetoric.

“But his claim that an 11-to-6 ratio of men to women was enough to ‘bring gender balance’ were the words of a leader who is either obdurate or uncomprehending,” she added.

Gender parity could have been achieved with a stroke of his pen; instead, he chose to keep women in the minority at 35 per cent,
she added.

“His actions raise some hope, a great deal of concern, and a clear warning about the need for constant vigilance and unrelenting pressure by proponents of women’s equal rights,” said Donovan.

Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times U.N. bureau chief, told IPS the persistence of AIDS-Free World in focusing wider outrage over the startling imbalance of the original panel on peacekeeping has paid off in a remarkably short time – by U.N. standards.

And the elevation to vice-chair of Ameerah Haq, one of the U.N.’s most qualified and effective officials over a nearly four-decade career, will go a long way in remedying the situation, said Crossette, currently the U.N.correspondent for The Nation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

She singled out Haq’s services in conflict and post-conflict countries which gives her a broad global vision.

To take one example from the new panel members – Radhika Coomaraswamy has been not only the U.N.’s point person on violence against women and the perils facing children in armed conflict, but also director of the International Center for Ethnic studies in Sri Lanka.

She held that position during an intense period of terrorism that cost the life of her predecessor in that position, Neelan Tiruchelvam, the country’s leading human rights lawyer, said Crossette.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, told IPS, “Our sincere hope is these appointments will not become two isolated efforts to please the complainers.

“We want a 50-50 representation not just this one time but all throughout the decision-making structures of the United Nations, ” she said.

She said those appointed should consult and connect with civil society, and there should be a mechanism for regular consultation with civil society, as part of the terms of reference of all key panels and committees and key positions in the United Nations.

She also called for a vetting mechanism for the selection of members of key panels and committees and key positions in the U.N. with a civil society representation.

“The problem with many high-level appointments in the U.N. is that they are based on political influence of some member states. They are pet nominees of influential member states who get the appointments – and that is why we have unqualified people in some of these positions,” she declared.

“We in civil society have delivered the message like a broken record. We’ve been telling the U.N. for years to walk the talk, and lead by example on matters of gender equality. I sincerely hope this will be the real tipping point,” she noted.

Meanwhile, in a statement released Tuesday, AIDS-Free World had the last word: “An 11-man, 6-woman panel, with a man as chair and a woman as vice-chair, does not bring gender balance by anyone’s reckoning.”

The High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will be monitored closely by civil society, the group said, and transparency will be expected in every aspect of its work.

“The Secretary-General must do better,” it declared. “The world’s women will hold him to account.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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As Wars Multiply, U.N. Takes a Hard Look at Peace Operationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/as-wars-multiply-u-n-takes-a-hard-look-at-peace-operations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-wars-multiply-u-n-takes-a-hard-look-at-peace-operations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/as-wars-multiply-u-n-takes-a-hard-look-at-peace-operations/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 22:46:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138037 U.N. Peacekeepers patrol the South Sudanese village of Yuai. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

U.N. Peacekeepers patrol the South Sudanese village of Yuai. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

Finding ways to better integrate the two arms of U.N. Peace Operations – Special Political Missions and Peacekeeping Operations – will be one of the priorities for a new review panel headed by Nobel Peace Laureate and former president of Timor-Leste José Ramos-Horta.

The review panel will look at how combined U.N. Peace Operations can respond to demands from the international community for increased responsiveness and effectiveness.“The international community is demanding that the U.N. intervene faster and more effectively to end conflicts.” -- Jose Ramos-Horta

In light of recent reports of incomplete or untruthful reporting from U.N. Peace Operations, such as the investigation into an alleged mass rape in Tabit, Sudan, another pressing issue for the panel will be transparency and accountability.

In an interview with IPS, Ramos-Horta explained that the review was not a fact-finding mission but that serious events that happen on the ground “illustrate the need for serious thinking and changes, in the whole of the peacekeeping and political missions.

“The U.N. cannot be seen to shy away from reporting to the powers that be what happens on the ground. Because in not doing so we add to impunity,” he said.

The 14-member Panel on Peace Operations was announced on Oct. 31 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and quickly drew criticism for only having three female panel members. In response, an additional three female panel members were announced Monday.

The low representation of women on the panel, particularly initially, was considered incongruous with the U.N.’s public talk about greater participation from women in its peacebuilding activities.

Ramos-Horta told IPS last week “it is acknowledged that there is significant discrepancy, and as I understand there are well-placed, well-argued criticisms in regard to this imbalance.”

Ramos-Horta said that utmost in the thinking of the panel will be the protection of women and children and the role of women in dialogue and peace agreements.

One of the new panel members is Radhika Coomaraswamy, a former Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who is expected to help ensure the panel works together with plans for implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325.

This may represent some recognition of the need to move towards action after several years of talk on women’s role in the peace building agenda.

Ramos-Horta told IPS that the panel will work closely with U.N. Women and will listen to civil society and representative women’s groups more so in regions where they suffer the brunt of conflicts.

José Ramos-Horta (right), Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, briefs journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

José Ramos-Horta (right), Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, briefs journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Balancing act with finite timeline

That the panel is also missing members from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan, where seemingly intractable conflicts have caused significant challenges for U.N. Peacekeeping in recent years, is another area for concern.

Ramos-Horta’s own experience with U.N. Peace Operations includes in his home country of Timor-Leste and in his recent role as U.N. Special Envoy to the Special Political Mission in Guinea-Bissau.

Consultation with representatives from countries at the receiving end of peace operations could help to identify new ways to control these conflicts that in some cases seem out of control.

Ramos-Horta said that one of the reasons that difficult conflicts have continued is in part due to a lack of local leadership and cooperation from local governments. For this reason, more consultation with representatives from these countries may be strategically wise.

But it is likely the the panel will feel that it is more pressed to focus on consulting with the governments of major troop and fund contributing countries, as well as the African Union and the NATO as the two other sources of multilateral peacekeepers.

Considering the spiraling scale and cost of U.N. Peace Operations, this will certainly be a priority for the review.

During the interview, Ramos-Horta also discussed the absence of a standing army or training camp for U.N. peacekeepers that would be ready to respond when crises erupt.

Ramos-Horta said that his own country of Timor-Leste had to turn to bilateral support in 2006, because the U.N. was unable to provide immediate assistance when violence re-ignited.

However, although a standing army may be able to bring conflicts under control faster through a faster response time, it would undoubtedly also provide new challenges in terms of financing.

Although one role of the panel will be to review peace operations in light of the changing nature of conflict, Ramos-Horta had a measured view of modern conflict.

He said it was important not to forget the horrors of past wars, such as the killing fields of Cambodia or the Iran-Iraq War.

Indeed, notwithstanding the complexity and severity of contemporary conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, the average number of people killed by war each year has decreased since the end of the Cold War.

Over this same period, the scale of U.N. Peace Operations has increased.

Ramos-Horta said that there are now greater expectations on the international community to act quickly in response to conflict.

“Civil society has more access to information and demand action from governments, that’s why you see today much greater demand and pressure on the international community to act,” he said.

“I wish that in my own country [Timor-Leste] from 1975 onwards there had been digital media and there had been international outrage from the very beginning as it is now happening in regard to Central African Republic, for instance, or in regard to Iraq, Libya, Syria conflicts”, he said.

“The international community is demanding that the U.N. intervene faster and more effectively to end conflicts.”

One way of making Peace Operations more efficient is to also look at conflict prevention measures.

To this end, Ramos-Horta said that one of the aims of the review will be to look at how to better finance the Special Political Missions, the arm of U.N. Peace Operations that aims to reduce the need for peacekeepers by stemming conflicts at their source.

Currently the funding available to Special Political Missions, of which there are currently 11 worldwide, is limited.

While peacekeeping has it’s own separate, ballooning, budget that currently stands at seven billion dollars for the 2014-15 financial year, the secretary general has to find funds for the Special Political Missions from the already cash-strapped U.N. General Budget.

At the end of the day, the limited financial capacity of the U.N. to do the work the international community expects of it may be the greatest priority for the panel, despite the other practical considerations it will have to make.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @lyndal.rowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pushing the Voice of Syrian Women For a New Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 09:55:31 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137768 Two young girls look on as a veiled woman passes by in Aleppo, August 2014. Syrian magazine Saiedet Souria wants to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Two young girls look on as a veiled woman passes by in Aleppo, August 2014. Syrian magazine Saiedet Souria wants to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Nov 15 2014 (IPS)

For most Syrian women, the war has been a disaster. For some, it has also been liberating.

For Yasmine Merei, managing editor of the Syrian women’s magazine Saiedet Souria, the upset of traditional family roles and the shaking off of a culture of fear have wrought positive effects.

Many Syrian women have unfortunately been forced to become the breadwinners of their families, with their husbands missing, in jail, injured or killed, she told IPS, but while fending for themselves can be a terrifying experience, it can also free women from the traditional bonds placed on them.

Although it [Syrian women’s magazine Saiedet Souria] does not shy away from stories of women who have suffered greatly … [it] wants mainly to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard
‘’If he [the husband] isn’t the one who pays for everything and has that specific role in society, he no longer has the right to tell you what to do’’, added Mohammad Mallak, the founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine, which translates as ‘Syrian Women’, and was founded early this year.

Mallak also runs a partner magazine, Dawda (‘Noise’), from the same office in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Few of the women in the magazine’s photos have their heads covered, and Merei took off her headscarf earlier this year, after wearing it ‘’for about twenty years’’ as part of her upbringing in a poor, conservative Sunni family.

Merei said that she started taking part in the 2011 protests due to the unjustness of Syrian law, especially as concerns women. As examples, she noted a longstanding law against Syrian women giving citizenship to their children and widespread, unpunished honour killings.

A former Master’s student in linguistics, Merei – like many Syrian women – has become responsible for providing for her immediate family, sending money to her mother and her brothers, both of whom were jailed for protesting and released only after large bribes were paid.

Her elderly father died shortly after he, too, had been imprisoned and the family forced to flee their home.

Telling women’s stories does not simply mean female victims recounting the horrors and hardships of their lives, however.

Although it does not shy away from stories of women who have suffered greatly, Merei wants mainly to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard.

A first-hand account from a woman who was tortured in Syrian regime prisons sits alongside a review of Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ and an interview with a female police officer in opposition-held areas in the pages of the magazine and on its Facebook page.

Articles on how forced economic dependence negatively affects both women and national economies overall, others discussing potential health problems found in refugee camps such as tuberculosis, a regular column by a female lawyer still in regime areas who previously spent 13 years in prison for political reasons and two translated articles from international media give breadth to the magazine’s roughly 50 pages per issue.

Saiedet Souria publishes sections of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – the ‘’international bill of rights for women’’ adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 – in every issue, and will publish it in its entirety in the next, she said.

The magazine itself only has a print run of between 4,500 and 5,000 copies per issue (with roughly 3,500 distributed inside Syria through one of its four offices), bit its Facebook page where the articles are regularly posted is followed by over 40,000.

For a country where Facebook and Youtube were banned from 2007 until early February 2011, and where internet and electricity are scarce, this is a significant number. Syria has been on Reporters Without Borders’ Internet enemies list since the list was established in 2006.

In addition to offices in Daraa, Damascus, Suweida and Qamishli, another will soon be opened in Aleppo, Merei said.

‘’All of the ten women who work for us inside get a regular salary of 200 dollars,’’ she explained, ‘’and are responsible for distributing the copies as well as bringing women together for meetings and similar initiatives.’’

The copies are given out at markets and local councils, and in at least one location, noted Merei, the women have a system to recirculate the limited copies once they have finished with them.

Reporters Without Borders has held two workshops for the magazine, in April and September of this year, and offered to donate equipment to the magazine, but ‘’ we had basic equipment – regular printers, computers’’ from an initial investment made by Mallak,  she said.

‘’But what we really needed was paper and ink, to get the magazine to as many women as possible. And so RSF made an exception and offered us that, instead.’’

The goal, she said, is to ‘’help Syrian women regain confidence in themselves.’’

A confidence undermined by the war and by the use of ‘religion’ to control women in Islamist areas which, when she last went to them earlier this year, ‘’seemed like the country had gone back to the Stone Ages.”

‘’I am a Sunni Muslim but the Islam there is not like any I know.’’

‘’One of the major problems is that Syria’s intelligentsia are all either in jail, abroad or dead,’’ one Syrian, who has lived most of his life abroad but came back recently to help try to set up university classes in opposition-held Aleppo, told IPS. ‘’There is almost no one to structure anything, no one to put forward ideas.’’

This is what the magazine and it correlated activities are trying to address, as well, Merei said. ‘’We are trying to give Syrians the knowledge they are going to need in the future,’’ she said.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Q&A: Emerging Powers Have a Key Role in Peace and Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/qa-emerging-powers-have-a-key-role-in-peace-and-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-emerging-powers-have-a-key-role-in-peace-and-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/qa-emerging-powers-have-a-key-role-in-peace-and-security/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 00:45:46 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137675 Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser currently heads the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Between 2011-2012 he was president of the General Assembly, setting the agenda for debate in the assembly during the Arab Spring.

His new book, “A year at the helm of the General Assembly” has just been published by NYU Press.You don’t want to enlarge the Security Council for the sake of representation only. No, (you must enlarge) for the commitment, the contribution.

IPS correspondent Roger Hamilton-Martin interviewed the ambassador on issues central to the book– mediation and U.N. reform. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How can we reform the General Assembly to ensure that practical steps are taken to improve implementation of resolutions by member states?

A: I look at the problem from (the perspective of) the mandate of the president of the General Assembly. One year. How can you achieve good results in one year? I was lucky because I was elected in February 2011 and I was still the ambassador of Qatar to the U.N., so it gave me enough time to prepare and organise.

I was ready from June, you know. June 2011. I took over in September. For someone who doesn’t know the system very well, he doesn’t know many people in the U.N… by the time he takes over, half of the year is gone. By the time he wants to discuss and reach agreement or create consensus, the other half is gone.

We need at least two years for the president. At least, if not more. One of the former PGAs tried to, with many countries, to try to come up with an agreement and a draft resolution to amend the charter. They faced great difficulties.

Q: On the Security Council, some say that certain countries are less relevant to global security currently than they were – Britain and France, for example. Should these countries stay as permanent members?

A: It is not up to me to say, “This country is better than that country.” This is a negotiation that must be had amongst the P5. We are looking at this to increase the permanent members not to decrease the current (P5) – they will be there.

We need more, you see many emerging powers around the world and they can also contribute to peace and security. You don’t need them for prestige; you need them for their involvement, for their support, for their role in the regions.

That’s where I am talking about how to reform, not to change the structure. We need a very effective council. How to achieve that? You have to look at what was the problem in the last 60, 70 years and how you can change based on that. I served there, I represented Qatar. If you don’t have consensus, and solidarity on issues, it’s a big problem.

The agreement among the 15 is very important. First among the P5, and then among the 15. So you don’t want to enlarge the council for the sake of representation only. No, (you must enlarge) for the commitment, the contribution.

Q: Is there a reluctance to amend the charter?

A: The P5 will not allow it. The United Nations always been accused by many people, NGOs, governments, but they don’t know, it’s not the fault of the U.N.

The U.N. is a state-driven – if there is consensus, there is agreement, and there is achievement. If there is no achievement, there is nothing. I want here to add a commend to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – he in his two terms did a lot, but still needs the support of member states.

If there is support you will see a different U.N.  I’m sure in the constitutions of many countries from time to time there is an amendment to deal with issues that weren’t there 100 or 200 years ago. It’s very essential and very important.

Q: In the history of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), there have only been three female presidents. What could be done to heighten participation?

A: We would love to see UNGA female presidents. Women who have assumed senior positions at the U.N. in general as under secretary-generals or assistant secretary generals have done remarkable jobs. I am sure they will do great as presidents of the General Assembly as well.

We need to encourage member states who nominate their candidates for this top position to support women candidates.  I am all for women leadership and gender balance.

Q: With the current situation in Iraq and Syria, what role does mediation have to play when it comes to ISIS? Is there a place for sitting down at the table with a militant organisation?

A: Today we always accuse governments that they are not doing enough. But politics and political decisions are not enough.  There is a responsibility on the religious leaders, there is responsibility on civil society, there is a responsibility on academia and university, there is responsibility even on the private sector.

So I think we should work together – religious leaders today can get involved in what’s going on with ISIS. You know young people – lack of education, negative environment, they an easy target for those people (ISIS).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Challenged by Rising Extremism and Militarismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-challenged-by-rising-extremism-and-militarism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-challenged-by-rising-extremism-and-militarism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-challenged-by-rising-extremism-and-militarism/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 18:37:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137631 A woman and child at Za’atri refugee camp, host to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by conflict, near Mafraq, Jordan. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

A woman and child at Za’atri refugee camp, host to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by conflict, near Mafraq, Jordan. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

Ongoing military conflicts in the strife-torn Middle East – specifically in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Palestine – have resulted in widespread civilian casualties, impacting heavily on the most vulnerable in besieged communities: women and children.

The biggest death toll has stemmed from the civil war in Syria, currently in its fourth year, followed by casualties from the devastating 50-day Israeli air attacks on Gaza last August.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which monitors the battlefields of Syria, has estimated the number of women killed at over 6,000 and the number of children at more than 9,400, by the end of August (with total deaths of over 190,000 since 2011).

The United Nations has described the killings in Gaza as “appalling”, with over 2,200 Palestinians dead, of whom 459 were children and 239 women (compared with 64 Israeli soldiers, two civilians and one foreign national).

Against this backdrop, the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) is holding a five-day conference in Turkey, scheduled to conclude Nov. 11, which will focus on two of the biggest challenges facing women, particularly in the Middle East: extremism and militarism.

“This past year, our counterparts have faced incomprehensible challenges, including politically and religiously motivated violence, extreme economic hardships and closure of public spaces,” says ICAN.

The participants in the meeting include over 50 women activists from 14 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Tajikistan, Libya and Yemen.

Stressing the importance of the meeting, ICAN co-founder Sanam Anderlini told IPS it’s the first time women from the region are gathering to talk about their experiences since three major developments in the Middle East: the rise of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Israeli bombings in Gaza and the Tunisian elections.

And most importantly, the meeting will focus on women’s perspectives, vision and strategies on the present crisis – and also propose solutions for dealing with the spread of both extremism and state militarism, she added.

In a statement released this week, ICAN also pointed out that women continue to be excluded from international decision-making arenas and the media – despite provisions in the landmark U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Meanwhile, the low representation of women (three out of 14) in a new U.N. blue ribbon panel on peacekeeping operations has generated strong criticism.

Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, complained about the marginalisation of women in an important panel, to be chaired by former president of Timor-Leste Jose Ramos Horta.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, both Lewis and Paula Donovan, who are co-directors of AIDS-Free World, said:
“This pattern must be reversed. The gender equity you profess to espouse can only be achieved by the appointment of eight additional women to the panel.

“If a panel of that size seems too unwieldy, some of your appointees must be asked to relinquish their seats to qualified women in order to achieve balance.

“If you leave things as they are, this panel will become a testament to the yawning, unbridgeable hypocrisy between U.N. performance and U.N. rhetoric,” the letter said.

Asked for his comments, an apologetic U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, “I guess this is one case where we have to just make a very sincere apology.

“We try as hard as we can to get the right gender balance and the right regional balance for these very large panels, and sometimes it’s a question of availability,” he said. “But when we make a mistake on that, you’re absolutely right, that’s a low number, and we’ll have to do better.”

Last week was the 14th anniversary of Resolution 1325, which was adopted on Oct. 31, 2000, stressing the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security and urging, first and foremost, increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.

Asked if 1325 has had any impact in terms of women’s security in war zones, Anderlini told IPS that it varies from country to country. In South Sudan, for example, the NGO Non Violent Peace Force has trained all-female teams to be deployed around the country.

In the Philippines, she said women demanded and established an all-women civilian ceasefire monitoring team.

“It makes a difference because they pay attention to the security of civilians making sure people have safe humanitarian passage,” Anderlini said.

She said by and large the United Nations and member states really haven’t done as much as they could. For example, she said, India has deployed an all women unit of peacekeepers to Liberia. Other countries could do the same.

The United Nations could also give priority deployment to countries with a higher percentage of women peacekeepers and police officers.

“It would certainly help reduce the risk or actual incidence of sexual abuse of local women by peacekeepers,” Anderlini added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Another Women’s Treaty? Implement Existing One, Say NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/another-womens-treaty-implement-existing-one-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-womens-treaty-implement-existing-one-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/another-womens-treaty-implement-existing-one-say-ngos/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:40:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137513 Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

Can violence against women be prevented or eliminated with a new international treaty signed and ratified by the 193 member states of the United Nations?

Rashida Manjoo of South Africa, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, told the General Assembly last week the absence of a legally binding agreement represents one of the obstacles to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality."I'm all for the practical measures...but no more legal conundrum, please. Women around the world already have law and policy-fatigue. What they want to see is implementation." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

“A different set of laws and practical measures are urgently needed to respond to and prevent the systemic, widespread and pervasive human rights violation experienced largely by women,” she told delegates.

But women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took a more cautious approach to a new treaty.

Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS, “In principle, the idea of stronger and more specific legislation is a good one.”

Clearly, laws, norms and policies are critical to shifting practices and changing attitudes.

“However, we know they are not enough. There are many countries — from the United States to members of the European Union and beyond, such as Pakistan — where laws exist, but violence against women continues in many spheres of life in diverse forms and at horrendous rates,” she said. “So legislation has to come with other pillars and elements to ensure effective implementation.”

Dr. Palitha Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, told IPS there needs to be substantial international support, not only for a treaty text to be eventually adopted, but even for negotiations to commence – perhaps following a U.N. resolution.

“The promoters of a treaty will have to convince the international community there is a real need for such a legal instrument,” he said.

He pointed out this will involve ensuring the existing international legal instruments are inadequate to address the issues that the promoters of a new treaty seek to address.

“While gender-based violence, or any other form of violence, is to be unreservedly condemned, this would pose a challenge for the promoters of a treaty on gender-based violence,” said Ambassador Kohona, who is Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

“It is also well known that while laws can be useful for modifying social and community attitudes, it would take more than an international instrument to bring this abhorrent behaviour to an end.”

He said humanity must stand up and condemn violence, in particular gender-based violence, “and we are experiencing too much of it in our world today.

“As one philosopher observed, we inhabit this planet only for a short period. Why hurt another during this brief existence?” he added.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, told IPS the elimination of violence against women is already well-covered in the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its General Recommendations, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in 1979.

“Why do we need another law?” she asked. “I do not see any added value in having another treaty on the same issues. If anything, we run the risk of undermining CEDAW that women around the world fought for. It already has almost universal ratification.”

Cabrera-Balleza said there is no point lobbying governments again. “And with many conservative governments in power, there is very little chance to get another law ratified,” she added.

Furthermore, the current international instruments we have that promote and protect women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality were mostly achieved through the global conferences of the 1990s.

“We don’t have that global momentum anymore. There will never be a World Conference on Women again in the same magnitude and impact as the 1995 Beijing Conference,” she said. “I’m all for the practical measures…but no more legal conundrum, please. Women around the world already have law and policy-fatigue. What they want to see is implementation.”

ICAN’s Naraghi-Anderlini told IPS: “We cannot deny the cultural or ‘religious’ backlash against the so-called progressive agenda on women’s rights.”

In societies where patriarchal norms are dominant – and that’s pretty much everywhere – and women are considered to be men’s property, the social conservatives can easily tap into traditions and cultural norms to generate a backlash against increasing women’s rights.

“We are seeing external forces (e.g. Saudi-based religious ideology, the Catholic Church, etc) being proponents of more conservative rulings and practices,” she pointed out.

At a minimum therefore, new laws have to come with tailored messaging – via respected outlets – be that media, law enforcement, recognised and respected national figures or community or religious leaders, to challenge those norms.

She said there has to be effective training and equipping of the local law enforcement/services to be able to implement the new legislation (e.g. provide care for victims, protection for those who come forward etc) – and police officers have to be held accountable for their actions or inactions or transgressions.

It would also be interesting and innovative to see a grounds-up accountability mechanism introduced, she said.

For example, she said, would the United Nations be willing to support a Women’s Security Campaign where local women’s organisations/groups are given the technical/financial and political support needed to reach out to police/law enforcement/local community leaders and together devise a charter that binds the authorities to ensuring they protect women from violence?

And will the national police force and its local chapters be willing to sign up to a charter in which they promise to protect women who are reporting cases of violence, promise not to violate/rape/harass etc. witnesses/victims, prevent further violence, etc.?

“If they agree to sign such a charter, than it is a social compact made with local actors who can hold them accountable. If they don’t or they try to water-down the conditions, it is indicative of a deep lack of political will or commitment to women’s security,” she declared.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Manjoo told the General Assembly last week that despite progress, there is continuing and new sets of challenges hampering efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women.

This she pointed out, is largely due to the lack of a all-inclusive approach that addresses individual, institutional and structural factors that are a cause and a consequence of violence against women.

Making a case for a new treaty, she said that with a specific legally binding instrument there would be a protective, preventive and educative framework reaffirming the international community’s assertion that women’s rights are human rights and that violence against women is a pervasive and widespread human rights violation, in and of itself.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Q&A: “The Battle Continues”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-battle-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 05:17:35 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137000 Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

The Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included chapters that defined concrete actions covering some 44 dimensions of population and development, including the need to provide for women and girls during times of conflict, the urgency of investments in young people’s capabilities, and the importance of women’s political participation and representation.

The diversity of issues addressed by the Programme of Action (PoA) provided the opportunity for states to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated agenda”.

In reality, governments and development agencies have been selective in their actions, and many have taken a sectoral approach to implementation, which has resulted in fragmented successes rather than holistic gains.

Few are better placed to reflect on progress made over the last two decades than the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In 1994 you were advocating for reproductive health and rights at the first ICPD in Cairo. Twenty years later, you are leading UNFPA as its executive director. What has that journey looked like for you?

A: The last four years have opened me up to the challenges that the organisation and the mandate itself have faced. Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girls and young people, including their reproductive rights – but the battle is not over.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that the ICPD Programme of Action faced in its early years?

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

A: I think that Cairo was very cognizant of the status of women in society. It was also cognizant of the status of girls – particularly of young adults, and of the issues of sexuality and the power struggle between men and women over who decides on the sexuality of women.

The battle is not strictly about a woman’s ability to control her fertility, but it goes beyond the issue of fertility and decision-making. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. There is no proportional representation in politics of women, and in the most severe cases, little girls don’t go to school as much as boys.

That is a continuous struggle, and our job is to ensure that gender equality in the very strict sense is accomplished, so we achieve what I always refer to as a “gender neutral” society.

Q: The Demographic Dividend is going to be an important focus in the post-2015 development agenda. How will UNFPA work to assess and meet the needs of young people?

A: We are already doing it!

Of course, we are going to strengthen and scale up our work. We don’t pretend that UNFPA can provide all the inputs needed to reap the dividend. But raising the bar and promoting youth visibility and participation at the political level is something that we will be doing with member states and partners.

For example, how do we ensure that we can partner with UNESCO, to continue to do the good work they are doing in terms of education – particularly with girls’ education? And how can we partner with ILO [the International Labour Organisation] to ensure that we have job creation, skills and all of the things that enable young people to come into the job market to get the opportunities they are looking for?

How do we ensure that within member states themselves, we’re creating spaces that enable young people to feel that they are part of the system?

It is impossible to get the kind of rapid development we’re looking at if member states do not accept the principles of comprehensive sexuality education, and do not accept that young people should also be exposed to information and services about contraception.

Q: How will you respond to women and girls in conflict areas, especially pregnant women or those who have faced violence and abuse?

A: That’s something we do superbly. We are also conscious of the fact that the world may see more crises. Today, we are looking at Gaza, we are looking at Syria, we are looking at Iraq, we are looking at the Central African Republic, we are looking at South Sudan, we are looking at old conflict areas in the world, which are still there. We cannot forget the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who have existed for so long in northern Kenya, in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, these are areas where we work actively.

We offer three types of response: services for girls and women to prevent GBV [gender-based violence]; services for the survivors of GBV, so that they can receive care for the physical assault; and services for their emotional and psychological support so that they are reintegrated back into the society.

We provide education, antenatal care, delivery services and postnatal care for women in camps and mothers around the world.

Our flagship programme, before we expanded to all of this, was recognising that women in conflict areas have dignity needs. Very few people think of women and their regular needs in war and conflict, so we provide them dignity kits, to enable them to preserve their health and dignity.

Something UNFPA has been trying to do more is increase attention to and prevent GBV and talk about it in such a way that we can show that it’s actually more prevalent than it is assumed, not only in conflict, but in domestic circumstances as well.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Where Women Don’t Workhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-women-dont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:07:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136871 Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Saleema Bibi graduated from medical school 15 years ago – but to this day, the 40-year-old resident of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has never been able to practice as a professional.

“I wanted to get a government job, but my family wanted me to get married instead,” Bibi tells IPS. Now she is a housewife, with “strict in-laws” who are opposed to the idea of women working.

“I know the province is short of female doctors,” she adds. “And the salaries and other benefits for people in the medical profession are lucrative, but social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.”

"Social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.” -- Saleema Bibi, a medical school graduate.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), gender disparities in labour force participation rates are severe in Pakistan, with male employment approaching 80 percent compared to a female employment rate of less than 20 percent between 2009 and 2012.

In the country’s northern, tribal belt, the situation is even worse, with religious mores keeping women confined to the home, and unable to stray beyond the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper.

What Saleema Bibi discovered in her late-20s was something most women who dream of a career will eventually encounter: endless hurdles to equal participation in the economy.

For instance, the health sector in KP, which has a population of 22 million people, employs just 40,000 women, while maintaining a male labour force of some 700,000, according to Abdul Basit, a public health specialist based in Peshawar.

He says the “shortage of women employees in the health sector is [detrimental] to the female population” and is the “result of male dominance and an environment shaped by the belief that women should stay at home instead of venturing out in public.”

Even though one-fifth of the country’s doctors are female, few of them are engaged in paid work. Hundreds of female students are enrolled in the public sector’s medical colleges, but KP only has 600 female doctors, compared to 6,000 male doctors, Noorul Iman, a professor of medicine at the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, tells IPS.

Experts also say the proportion of women workers occupying white-collar jobs is very limited, since even educated women are discouraged from entering the public service.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey for 2012-2013, women have traditionally populated the informal sector, taking up jobs as domestic workers and other low-paid, daily-wage professions as cooks or cleaners, where affluent families typically pay them paltry sums of money.

In contrast, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts has been less than two percent.

Research indicates that only 19 percent of working women had jobs in the government sector, while the economic survey reports that some 200,000 women in KP were actively seeking jobs in the 2010-2011 period.

The most popular jobs were found to be in medicine, banking, law, engineering and especially education.

“Because women can work in all-girls’ schools, without interacting with male students or colleagues, their families allow them to take up these posts,” Pervez Khan, KP’s deputy director of education, tells IPS, adding that the female-only environment provided by gender-segregated schools explains why women are attracted to the profession of teaching.

The provision of three months’ paid leave, as well as 40 days of maternity leave is yet another incentive to enter the education sector, he states.

Still, the disparity between men and women is high. Although KP has a total of 119,274 teachers, only 41,102 are female.

The manufacturing sector does not fair any better. Muhammad Mushtaq, a leading industrialist in the province, says only three percent of the workforce in 200 industrial units around KP is comprised of women.

“Many people do not want women to mix with men in offices, and prefer for them to stay away from public places,” he tells IPS. This is a particularly disheartening reality in light of the fact that the number of girls in Pakistani universities, including in the northern regions, is almost equal to that of boys; despite their competitive qualifications, however, women are marginalised.

Mushtaq also believes that sexual harassment of women in their workplaces conspires with other forces to keep women from the payroll. About 11 percent of working women reported incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a 2006 study by the Peshawar-based Women’s Development Organisation.

“The research, conducted on women working in multinational companies, banks, government-owned departments, schools and private agencies, found a prevailing sense of insecurity,” says Shakira Ali, a social worker with the organisation.

Faced with mounting poverty in a country where 55 percent of the population of about 182 million earn below two dollars a day, while a full 43 percent earn between two and six dollars daily, many women are growing desperate for work, taking up positions in garment and food processing units, or entering the manufacturing sector where their embroidery skills are in high demand.

But this too, experts say, is predominantly temporary, contractual employment.

There is a kind of vicious cycle in which a lack of experience results in inadequate skills, which in turn fuels unemployment among women.

The situation is made worse by a nationwide female literacy rate of just 33 percent. While the female primary school enrollment rate is 70 percent, that number falls to just 33 percent for secondary-level education.

Muhammad Darwaish at the KP Employment Exchange Department says that only those women who head their households – either due to the death or debilitation of their husbands – are free to actively seek employment.

They too, however, fall victim to low wages and informal working conditions.

KP Information Minister Shah Farman tells IPS the government is committed to creating a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity.

“We are bringing in a law on the principles of equal opportunity for men and women and their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination,” he asserts.

Farman claims the KP government has launched a 10-million-dollar interest-free microcredit programme for women to enable them to start their own businesses.

“The programme, started in December 2013, seeks to reduce poverty through creation of self-employment and job opportunities for women,” he says.

Under the scheme, small loans worth anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 dollars are being given to women who want to start embroidery, sewing and other home-based businesses.

It will continue for the next five years to bring women into the economic mainstream.

Pakistan is also bound to work towards gender equality by the targets set out in the internationally agreed-upon Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire next year.

The government has taken steps towards the goal of empowering women through a series of national-level initiatives including the establishment of crisis centres for women, the National Plan of Action, gender reform programmes and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Still, women on average continue to earn less than men, while women only hold 60 seats compared to 241 seats occupied by men in the National Assembly.

Until women are allowed to fully contribute to the national economy, experts fear that Pakistan will not reach the goal of achieving gender equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: At Last, New Faces at the European Unionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:47:34 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136533

In this column Joaquín Roy, Joaquin Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, analyses the new faces and the balance of power among the men and women who are leading Europe.

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At last, after the obligatory summer break, the European Union (EU) has some new faces to fill the top vacancies on the team that began to emerge from the May 25 parliamentary elections.

Before the recess, conservative Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker had been appointed to the presidency of the European Commission, the executive body of the 28-nation bloc.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

There was stiff opposition from some governments, particularly from British Prime Minister David Cameron, but in the spirit of the Treaty of Lisbon the post was offered to the candidate of the political group winning most seats in the new European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

The second agreement was to leave German socialist Martin Schultz in his present post as president of the Parliament for another two and a half years. A balance was thereby struck between moderates of the right and of the left.

The thorniest issues remained to be faced. The traditional “Carolingian” (Franco-German) Europe was still in control of the bloc, and renewal was needed. Eastern Europe was demanding a larger role and there was a notable absence of women.

Juncker had already made it known that he would not accept a new Commission that did not have at least one-third women members. The established order, an unabashedly male-dominated club, gave no signs of correcting itself. The EU’s customary intricate balancing act was set in motion.“Renzi wanted to attack head-on Italy’s poor track record in European affairs in recent years, tarnished by the deplorable presence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power and in opposition, a handicap that affected his predecessor Enrico Letta before him”

The jigsaw pieces began to fall into place. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s candidacy fell out of favour. Then followed a dual move by the community. First, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a conservative from the entourage of former president Lech Walesa, was appointed president of the EU Council, made up of its heads of state and government.

Secondly, Federica Mogherini, the Italian foreign minister, was catapulted to the position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (FASP).

Proposing her candidacy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi doggedly fought resistance from representatives of the Baltic states who regarded her as too soft on Russia, citing the example of her invitation to President Vladimir Putin to a meeting in July.

The sweetener of Tusk’s designation mollified the resistance of Eastern European countries, but not the reluctance of other nations that regarded the inexperienced Mogherini, just 41 in June, as not strong enough to face external enemies in a convulsed world.

However, Renzi, himself only 39, was playing a risky juggling act with several balls in the air. Mogherini was his message to the power clique in Rome to try to end the illusion that political respect requires having reached an age of around 100.

Moreover, Renzi wanted to attack head-on Italy’s poor track record in European affairs in recent years, tarnished by the deplorable presence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power and in opposition, a handicap that affected his predecessor Enrico Letta before him.

Furthermore, Renzi wanted to create an opportunity to influence European Union foreign policy through Mogherini’s cooperation.

Renzi’s bold proposal may backfire on him, precisely because of the weakness of the Italian system, which is tolerating leadership by a moderate Socialist so long as he does not shake its foundations.

Within the European community, Renzi will have to rely on the support of his Socialist counterparts, who have been going through a bad patch recently. They have suffered from the crisis, which has forced them to apply neoliberal austerity policies, causing heads to roll from Scandinavia to Portugal and Greece.

For her part, Mogherini will have to face traditional problems and new challenges. The establishment already mistrusts her because of her age. She will find little support from a group of people, most of whom could be her parents.

On the Commission, where she is vice president, she will hardly be comforted by the handful of women Juncker manages to recruit. On the Council she will have the support of only four ladies, led by Angela Merkel, in a boardroom full of boring men in dark suits and dreadful ties, each of them obsessed with managing foreign policy on their own terms and at their own risk.

The worst of the bad omens for the appointment is the suspicion that the EU’s hard core does not believe the position of High Representative to be important, given that the main security and defence competences remain in the national domains.

Mogherini’s second challenge, like that of her predecessor Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, is to cope with the enduring imprint of the founder of the position, Javier Solana of Spain.

However, her ambition and track record already surpass those of the eminently forgettable Ashton, a Brussels official who had already booked her ticket on the Eurostar train under the Channel back to London when she was unexpectedly appointed to FASP.

Mogherini can document her solid preparation for such a high-profile job over two decades, with her degree in Political Science, her exchange experience on an Erasmus scholarship in the French city of Aix-en-Provence, and her thesis on political Islam.

A mother of two with a gentle smile and light-coloured eyes, she gives the impression of an assistant professor working up the academic ladder towards a full professorship. But she could surprise some of the detractors who are already prophesying her failure.

She is a professional in a field that needs new vocations and fresh vision. She will lead the most impressive diplomatic team on the planet, made up of the ministries of 28 countries and the European External Action Service. She deserves good luck, not just for herself and Renzi, but for all Europeans and people beyond. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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OPINION: A New European Foreign Policy in an Age of Anxietyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 17:47:37 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136572 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

The appointment of Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as the new European Union foreign policy chief offers the opportunity for an overhaul of EU foreign and security policy.

With many EU leaders, ministers and senior officials slow to respond to world events given Europe’s traditionally long summer break, the 2014 summer of death and violence has left the reputation of ‘Global Europe’ in tatters, highlighting the EU’s apparent disconnect from the bleak reality surrounding it.

When she takes charge in November along with other members of the new European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, Mogherini’s first priority must be to restore Europe’s credibility in an increasingly volatile and chaotic global landscape.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

It cannot be business as usual. A strategic rethink of Europe’s global outreach is urgent.

Europe can no longer pretend that it is not – or only mildly – shaken by events on its doorstep. In a world where many countries are wracked by war, terrorism and extremism, EU foreign policy cannot afford to be ad hoc, reactive and haphazard.

Given their different national interests and histories, European governments are unlikely to ever speak with “one voice” on foreign policy. But they can and should strive to share a coherent, common, strategic reflection and vision of Europe’s future in an uncertain and anxious world.

Changing gears is going to be tough. Many of Europe’s key beliefs in the use of soft power, a reliance on effective multilateralism, the rule of law and a liberal world order are being shredded by governments and non-state actors alike.

With China and other emerging nations, especially in Asia, gaining increased economic and political clout, Europe has been losing global power and influence for almost a decade.“Europe can no longer pretend that it is not – or only mildly – shaken by events on its doorstep. In a world where many countries are wracked by war, terrorism and extremism, EU foreign policy cannot afford to be ad hoc, reactive and haphazard”

Despite pleas by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the crisis in Ukraine, most European governments remain reluctant to increase military and defence spending. At the same time, the Eurozone crisis and Europe’s plodding economic recovery with unacceptably high unemployment continue to erode public support for the EU both at home and abroad.

Populist far-right and extreme-left groups in Europe – including in the European Parliament – preach a protectionist and inward-looking agenda. Most significantly, EU national governments are becoming ever greedier in seeking to renationalise important chunks of what is still called Europe’s “common foreign and security policy”.

To prove her critics wrong – and demonstrate foreign policy expertise and flair despite only a six-month stint as Italy’s foreign minister – Mogherini will have to hit the ground running.

Her performance at the European Parliament on September 2, including an adamant rejection of charges of being “pro-Russian”, appears to have been impressive. Admirers point out that she is a hard-working team player, who reads her briefs carefully and speaks fluent English and French in addition to her native Italian.

These qualities should stand her in good stead as she manages the unwieldy European External Action Service (EEAS), plays the role of vice president of the European Commission, chairs EU foreign ministerial meetings, chats up foreign counterparts and travels around the world while also – hopefully – spearheading a strategic review of Europe’s global interests and priorities.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The tasks ahead are certainly daunting. There is need for reflection and action on several fronts – all at the same time. Eleven years after the then EU High Representative Javier Solana drew up the much-lauded European Security Strategy (partially revised in 2008), Europe needs to reassess the regional and global security environment, reset its aims and ambitions and define a new agenda for action.

But this much-needed policy overhaul to tackle new and evolving challenges must go hand-in-hand with quick fire-fighting measures to deal with immediate regional and global flashpoints.

The world in 2014 is complex and complicated, multi-polar, disorderly and unpredictable. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have up-ended the post-World War security order in Europe. The so-called “Islamic State” is spreading its hateful ideology through murder and assassination in Syria and Iraq, not too far from Europe’s borders. A fragile Middle East truce is no guarantee of real peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Relations with China have to be reinforced and consolidated. These and other complex problems require multi-faceted responses.

The days of ‘one-size-fits-all’ foreign policy are well and truly over. In an inter-connected and interdependent world, foreign policy means working with friends but also with enemies, with like-minded nations and those which are non-like-minded, with competitors and allies.

It is imperative to pay special attention to China, India and other headline-grabbing big countries, but it could be self-defeating to ignore the significance and clout of Indonesia, Mexico and other middle or even small powers. Upgrading ties with the United States remains crucial. While relations with states and governments are important they must go hand-in-hand with contacts with business leaders, civil society actors and young people.

Finally, Europe needs to acquire a less simplistic and more sophisticated understanding of Islam and its Muslim neighbours, including Turkey, which has been left in uncertainty about EU membership for more than fifty years.

Europe’s response to the new world must include a smart mix of brain and brawn, soft and hard power, carrots and sticks. Isolation and sanctions cannot work on their own but neither can a foreign policy based only on feel-good incentives. The EU’s existing foreign policy tools need to be sharpened but European policymakers also need to sharpen and update their view of the world.

Mogherini’s youth – and hopefully fresh stance on some of these issues – could be assets in this exercise. Importantly, Mogherini must work in close cooperation and consultation with other EU institutions, including the European Parliament and especially the European Commission whose many departments, including enlargement issues, trade, humanitarian affairs, environment, energy and development are crucial components of ‘Global Europe’.

The failure of synergies among Commission departments is believed to be at least partly responsible for the weaknesses of the EU’s “Neighbourhood Policy”.

Also, a coherent EU foreign policy demands close coordination with EU capitals. This is especially true in relations with China. Recent experience shows that, as in the case of negotiations with Iran, the EU is most effective when the foreign policy chief works in tandem with EU member states. Closer contacts with NATO will also be vital if Europe is to forge a credible strategy vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine.

Such cooperation is especially important if – as I suggest – Mogherini embarks on a revamp of EU foreign and security policy.

Mogherini will not be able to do it on her own. Much will depend on the EEAS team she works with and the knowledge, expertise and passion her aides bring to their work. Team work and leadership, not micro-management, will be required.

Putting pressing global issues on the backburner is no longer an option. The change of guard in Brussels is the right moment to review and reconsider Europe’s role in the world. Global Europe’s disconnect needs to be tackled before it is too late.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Shada Islam, Head of the Asia Programme at Friends of Europe, a leading independent think tank in Brussels, is an experienced journalist, columnist, policy analyst and communication specialist with a strong background in geopolitical, foreign, economic and trade policy issues involving Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and the United States.

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

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Bangladeshi Girls Seek Equal Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 04:08:07 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136315 Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
RANGPUR, Bangladesh, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Until five years ago, Shima Aktar, a student in Gajaghanta village in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh, about 370 km northwest of the capital Dhaka, was leading a normal life. But when her father decided that it was time for her to conform to purdah, a religious practice of female seclusion, things changed.

The young girl, now 16 years old, says her father pulled her out of school at the age of 11 and began to lay plans for her marriage to an older man “for her own protection” he said.

Born to a hardline Muslim family, pretty, shy Shima might have taken these changes in stride – were it not for the support of a local youth advocacy group.

Called ‘Kishori Abhijan’, meaning ‘Empowering Adolescents’, the project is a brainchild of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and educates young people on a range of issues, from gender roles, sex discrimination and early marriage, to reproductive health, personal hygiene and preventing child labour.

“The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].” -- Shireen Huq, founding member of Naripokkho, a leading women's rights NGO
Now that she knows her rights, Shima is fighting hard to assert them, joining a veritable army of young women around this country of 160 million who are determined to change traditional views about gender.

Besides the Empowering Adolescents initiative, other grassroots schemes to educate communities on the rights of women include groups that practice interactive popular theatre (IPT), designed to address social issues at a local level.

Using a mix of popular folk tales and traditional songs and dancing, the actors perform for their parents, local officials and other influential community members, determined to have their voices heard by breaking out of the box.

The Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), an NGO working in a remote part of the Rangpur district, recently put on a public performance to illustrate the need to abolish the dowry system, and boost female participation in the public workforce.

Thousands of women here live under the shadow of dowry-related violence. The Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) reported some years ago that the practice of dowry leads to torture, acid attacks and sometimes even murder and suicide.

The year 2011 saw 330 deaths of women in dowry-related violence. The previous year 137 women were killed for the same reason, according to the largest women’s rights NGO, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. The NGO also reported 439 cases of dowry-related violence in 2013.

Very often, women are either killed or commit suicide when they are unable to pay the full price of the dowry.

Mohammed Rashed of CMES believes that educating people as to the impacts of traditional practices and ideas can stem such unnecessary tragedies.

“By involving parents, teachers, community and religious leaders and government officials in awareness campaigns we have been able to bring positive changes,” he told IPS.

Already, efforts to spread awareness are bearing fruit. According to UNICEF, some 600,000 adolescents around the country, 60 percent of them girls, are now educated on issues like the legal marriage age of boys and girls, as well as the importance of education and family planning, as a direct result of grassroots advocacy.

Between 64 and 84 percent of adolescents interviewed by the Dhaka-based NGO Unnayan Onneshan claimed that dowry practice had decreased in their communities since 2010.

Policies driven by demands to increase girls’ education have also enabled a much higher rate of female participation in schools.

In 1994 the government introduced the Female Secondary School Stipend Programme – funded by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Norwegian government – that offered adolescent girls a small amount of money every six months to stay in school.

Although urban and rural disparities still exist, the average primary school enrollment rate for girls is now as high as 97 percent, one of the highest in the developing world.

The field of reproductive health and rights has also witnessed improvements. The presence of skilled birth attendants in rural areas has increased from less than five percent in the early 90s to 23 percent today, while contraceptive use among women has dramatically increased from a mere eight percent in 1975 to about 62 percent in 2011.

Despite these achievements, girls still lag behind their male counterparts throughout much of the country.

Child mortality, for instance, remains much higher among females than males, with 16 deaths per 1,000 live births for boys and 20 deaths per 1,000 live births for girls, according to a 2010 study by Unnayan Onneshan.

World Bank data from 2010 shows that 57 percent of women participate in the labour force, while men show a much higher rate of employment, at 88 percent.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist, told IPS, “Despite the impressive gains, women and girls continue to be discriminated [against]. The result manifests in the unacceptably high number of maternal deaths [and] the dropout rate for girls in secondary schools.”

A 2013 ministry of health report found the maternal mortality rate (MMR) to be 170 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 574 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990.

Meanwhile, some 66 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday, giving the country one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

Huq, a founding member of Naripokkho, a leading NGO on the rights of women, also said, “The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].”

Experts believe it is important to involve women at every level of decision-making, including in Union Councils (UC) – the smallest administrative units in Bangladesh – which could enhance women’s participation in public life.

Some 67 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by UNICEF in 2010 felt that female members of the UCs should be given more representation and power to make decisions for their communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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