Inter Press Service » Women in Politics http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:39:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 OP-ED: Beyond the Street Protests: Youth, Women and Democracy in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133719 Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to […]

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The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to join a recent discussion in Salamanca, Spain, on young women’s political participation in the region.In the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

That’s what Paola Pabón from Ecuador, Silvia Alejandrina Castro from El Salvador and Gabriela Montaño from Bolivia have in common. They are among the very few women in parliaments and they are young: They broke a double glass ceiling.

Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 26 percent are young, aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance. Even though the average regional rate of women taking up positions in parliament is 25 percent, higher than the global average, a closer look shows that women still lag behind.

Our recent survey of 25 parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean shows a very low representation of youth in the region’s parliaments – especially those of African or indigenous descent. Only 2.7 percent of male parliamentarians in the region and 1.3 percent of women MPs were under 30 years old—even though more than one fourth of the region’s population is young.

When we look at the age of MPs below under 40, 15 percent are men and not even 6.5 percent are women.

UNDP’s regional Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality – and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections – gender, income, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights and civic engagement.

One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent of them have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.

And the region’s youth have been taking to the streets, playing a central role in recent protests in countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Such demonstrations urge us to understand the demands of young people, and to address lingering structural problems in our societies, especially inequality.

The increasing frequency of such mobilisations tells us that young people want to actively participate in their society’s development. The first Ibero-American Youth Survey - which we launched last year with the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ) and other partners — shows that young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain expect their participation to increase over the next five years.

Institutions should provide formal spaces for this, or protests will become the only effective way for young people to make their voices heard. And the region will waste an opportunity to enhance the quality of its democratic governance.

We are working towards this goal. UNDP and partners brought together 22 young MPs from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013 to put together the region’s first young legislators’ network to boost young people’s political participation and inclusion.  We have been partnering with OIJ and other U.N. sister agencies and governmental youth secretaries to push this agenda.

Moreover, our youth online platform JuventudconVoz (youth voices), with the OIJ and the Spanish Cooperation agency, is also helping boost young Latin Americans political participation and leadership skills.

Protests sparked by young Latin Americans will likely continue in several countries. Beyond the street level, in the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

Jessica Faieta is UNDP’s Director a.i. and Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean @JessicaFaieta / www.latinamerica.undp.org @UNDPLAC

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity.  It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new […]

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Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

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Political Web Spun for ‘Youngistan’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youngistan-weaves-political-web http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 08:24:31 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133446 As India votes in its 16th general election Apr. 7-May 12, the youth, comprising nearly half the country’s 814 million voters, could prove decisive. And the internet is being used increasingly to target youth in the world’s largest democratic exercise. India has 383 million voters in the 18-35 age group. Underscoring their importance, pollsters have named […]

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A Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Bhubaneswar. Much campaigning, particularly among the youth, is increasingly over the internet. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

A Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Bhubaneswar. Much campaigning, particularly among the youth, is increasingly over the internet. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

As India votes in its 16th general election Apr. 7-May 12, the youth, comprising nearly half the country’s 814 million voters, could prove decisive. And the internet is being used increasingly to target youth in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

India has 383 million voters in the 18-35 age group. Underscoring their importance, pollsters have named this huge segment ‘Youngistan’, or the nation of the youth.

Not only have election promises been tailored to woo this segment, but for the first time campaign engagement with voters is taking the internet route, especially over social media platforms."Politicians are listening as well as responding to young voters through social media."

“There’s more participation and what’s more, politicians are listening as well as responding to young voters through social media,” Sunil Abraham of the Bangalore-based non-profit Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) told IPS.

Mobile phone texting, which was used to reach out to voters in the last election in 2009, has made way for a tech-basket of mobile phones, e-mail campaigns, know-your-leader and political party websites, messages via smart phones, interactive Facebook and Twitter accounts, Google hangouts and YouTube videos.

Social media practitioners say at least 10 percent of the 664 million dollars projected to be spent on advertisements and publicity by political parties is likely to go to social media companies.

India’s internet user base has been estimated at 205 million, Facebook users number 65 million, Google+ 36 million, and Twitter 16 million.

In a document titled ‘Social Media and Law Enforcement’, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) projects user strength galloping to 243 million by June 2014, of which 192 million would be active users, 56 million of them rural. Active users are categorised as those who use the internet at least once a month.

Fifty to sixty percent of current internet users are in the 18-35 age group, according to Abraham. Politicians are tapping into this huge and growing youth voter base not only to boost their reach but also to monitor engagement and run more effective campaigns.

“Politicians contract us to find out what ‘influencers’ on Twitter are saying about them, and we segregate the positive and negative tweets for a sentiment analysis,” Jwalant Patel, 30-year-old co-founder of social media analytics startup Meruki Analytics and Reporting Services told IPS. ‘Influencers’ are those with at least 10,000 Twitter followers, Patel said.

Of the 70,000 ‘influencers’ that the tech company has identified for its 11 clients within weeks of starting operations, 90 percent are in the 18-40 age group.

Patel claims that 160 of the 543 constituencies that go to the polls will be ‘social media constituencies’ where results will be impacted by politicians’ internet engagement.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, 63, has a Twitter following of 3.66 million, while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, 45, whose anti-corruption plank is widely believed to have got Indian youth interested in politics, has 1.58 million. The Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi, 43, does not have an official Twitter account.

Sustained youth participation in protests in the Delhi rape case of December 2012 and in favour of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill are other major catalysts in the politically proactive approach of youth in these elections, say analysts.

The dynamics of electioneering has changed in India, with its 1.2 billion people.

Abraham agrees that the internet in general and social media in particular have had a democratising effect on the voter-voted relationship, but he warns that once the competition gets tougher, political leaders may resort to ‘astro-turf’ battles where they manipulate e-campaigns, as opposed to the more transparent, physical ‘grass turf’ campaigns.

“How can you bet that all the Facebook ‘likes’ are from genuine supporters?” said Abraham.

Many of the youth seem clear on issues of concern to them.

“Most leading parties are promising jobs for graduates, but when a party that has been in power for several years says ‘we will give jobs’, we ask what were you doing all these years? If a new party makes the same promise, give them a chance, we say,” 20-year-old student Siddhant Sadangi told IPS in Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha state in eastern India.

According to India’s National Sample Survey, one in four graduates is unemployed. The figures are worse for women.

More and more village men are preferring higher education to agricultural work, and this means there will be more demand for higher quality jobs in the near future.

In conflict-hit states, cynicism is apparent among the youth.

Manipur Talks, a vibrant internet forum that connects the widespread diaspora of northeast India’s Manipur state, lampoons pre-election promises. The site calls the election ‘Magic Wand Expo 2014 – the biggest expo for wiz-crafts in the world’ – a spoof on Harry Potter.

Northeastern communities have been protesting discrimination against them in the rest of India. “Politicians have lost credibility here and what’s more, nothing is done to help the Manipur youth diaspora vote,” Manipur-based social activist Chitra Ahanthem told IPS.

Campaigns by India’s Election Commission to enlist young voters through online registration have succeeded in a nationally high 70 percent turnout expectation, according to Election Commissioner Harishankar Brahma. But many of the 30 percent who will not exercise their franchise will be the young from troubled states.

“The youth of Jammu and Kashmir are isolated, alienated, angry,” Bashir Ahmad Dabla, heading the University of Kashmir’s sociology and social work department told IPS from Srinagar.

“Here, unlike elsewhere, the need for political stability takes precedence over economic issues,” said Dabla. “Jobs, education, water, electricity, roads are important but not the priority in Kashmir.”

The last elections in Kashmir saw only 31 percent voting. Around 50 percent of voters in Kashmir are in the 18-35 age group.

Saba Firdous, a 25-year-old graduate in the state, is not voting this time, and it’s not because of a poll boycott campaign by Kashmiri separatists.

“The major issues for youth here are repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir valley, stopping civilian harassment and killings, resolving the unending conflict,” Firdous told IPS. “Mainstream political parties who go to Parliament will do nothing about these issues, we know.”

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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The Lady’s Allure Is Challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ladys-spell-challenged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ladys-spell-challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ladys-spell-challenged/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 07:29:16 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133302 For over a quarter of a century Uhla Min has lived under the spell of “The Lady”, the popular nickname for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi. His involvement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dates back to the days when Suu Kyi launched a campaign in the late […]

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Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy faces public scrutiny as she embarks on a campaign to form the next government in 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy faces public scrutiny as she embarks on a campaign to form the next government in 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

For over a quarter of a century Uhla Min has lived under the spell of “The Lady”, the popular nickname for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi.

His involvement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dates back to the days when Suu Kyi launched a campaign in the late eighties to rid Myanmar of military rule.

Min, now 75, has vivid memories of listening to Suu Kyi speak at the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in capital Yangon, and of running from soldiers chasing down street protestors. He lost his government job because of his support for the NLD.She has now had to plunge into the world of realpolitik.

Min was jailed in July 1989 when Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. The next 25 years their lives took parallel paths. Suu Kyi would be confined to her house in Yangon under house arrest, Min would be in and out of jail. He was tortured, like many other NLD activists.

“Jail was an endless horror, we were beaten till we fainted,” Min, now chairman of the organising committee at the NLD headquarters in Yangon tells IPS.

Like many others in jail facing a bleak future, Min had one hope. “We all new that The Lady was with us, she was like that small beacon of hope in that very dark place we found ourselves in.”

The allure of The Lady has not diminished for him, and for many others. Earlier this month, Zaw Linn Oo, programme director for the Sopyay Myanmar Development Organisation, a non-governmental organisation working on development issues, sat transfixed in a hotel lobby where Suu Kyi launched her new Suu Foundation.

He had not heard her speak in person for more than a decade. “I am so excited,” Oo said after listening to the icon of democracy in the country.

Oo’s associations with the NLD were peripheral. He remembers the big meetings in 1988 and then again in 2008. “I was never a full time activist,” says Oo. But, he said, he knows that “she is the only one who has been true to us.”

At the NLD office U Thein, a young woman in her late twenties, shares the same sentiment. She became an NLD volunteer 10 years back, soon after she left school. Her family was against the move. “They felt it was dangerous, and it was. People were being arrested and put in jail just for speaking her name in public,” U Thein tells IPS.

She said that Suu Kyi appealed to her because she was taking on a corrupt and violent leadership without resorting to violence herself. “Every time I saw her picture or heard her voice, I felt so much peace.”

She joined Suu Kyi’s then underground party, and dropped earlier thoughts of seeking a government job.

This enduring image of The Lady, as the champion of rights in the Gandhian mold, is  now being challenged by the more practical image of Suu Kyi the politician.

After she was released from house arrest in November 2011, and Myanmar opened up under the leadership of President Thein Sein, Suu Kyi has embarked on a campaign to wrest control from the Sein government that is backed by the army. The challenge will be the next elections due in 2015.

She has now had to plunge into the world of realpolitik.

“She is faced with a tough decision here,” says a western diplomat. “There is no one as charismatic as her who can lead the party, there is no one with her star power. But by getting into street politics she has allowed her image of the unsullied democracy icon to be open to attack.”

Suu Kyi has been criticised for not taking a tougher stance on raging racial violence in Myanmar. And some of her party supporters now say that years of isolation have made her uncompromising.

She also faces constitutional challenges that prevent her from assuming leadership of the country. Article 59 of the 2008 Constitution states that national leadership is not permitted to anyone whose spouse or children are citizens of another country. This effectively bars Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Suu Kyi has called for amendments to the constitution. But she has been ambiguous whether she would push for an all-out campaign ahead of the next elections.

“A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation,” she said at the launch of her foundation. “We all have to remember that the 2015 election is just a stepping stone, and a long journey lies ahead of this country.”

Reacting to criticism that she has been too quiet on racial violence, Suu Kyi said the answer to most problems facing Myanmar would be establishment of the rule of law.

Min has no doubt that Suu Kyi, if elected president, would inherit a monumental mess. “This is a divided country ruled by the military for over 50 years, she cannot make it right overnight.”

The next few months will be pivotal to how future generations remember her, he says.

“No matter what happens, for us she has always been and will always be pure.”

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The Gambia’s Women Demand a Seat at the Political Table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 08:37:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133294 The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation. This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political […]

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Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Mar 30 2014 (IPS)

The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation.

This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political reforms to ensure the effective participation of women in all positions of political leadership.

“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well,” Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap, tells IPS. The NGO has received support for the campaign from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. non-profit that supports freedom across the world.“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well.” -- Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap

“What we’re doing has nothing to do with partisan politics,” says Touray. “It’s not about disempowering men. It’s about development, and it’s about gender politics.

“When we talk about gender politics, we’re talking about women from different political parties coming together to look at their issues and promote it, under one umbrella.”

The preliminary results of this tiny West African nation’s 2013 census show that women constitute more than 51 percent of the country’s almost 1.8 million people.

As of 2011, women represent 58 percent of national voters. Their numerical strength is not, however, reflected in the number of women in governance and leadership positions at both national and local level.

This is despite the fact that the Gambia has a female vice-president, Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, who has held the post since 1997.

“Out of 53 National Assembly members, we have only four who are elected and one nominated female deputy. That’s nine percent,” Amie Sillah, a gender activist and politician, tells IPS.

“Also, out of 1,873 village heads, only five are women. There’s no female governor, no female district chief. So is that impressive?”

The structures within various political parties, at best, relegate women to being permanent deputies of male propagandists. Women mostly only hold leadership positions in the female wings of their political parties.

And the majority of politically-active women here spend their time campaigning for votes and financial donations for their male counterparts.

“In the selection committees of parties, even if a woman is made chair, as our proverb goes: ‘They [men] give you the head and take out the tongue’, so that the woman is not able to speak out. Men give you just a nominal power. In a nutshell, you propagate what they want you to,” Sillah says.

The Constitution guarantees women’s right to participate in politics and criminalises any form of gender-based discrimination.

Over the past four years, at least three pro-women laws have been passed: the Women’s Act of 2010, the Domestic Violence of Act, and the Sexual Offences Act, both of 2013.

Yet, women remain politically marginalised.

Activists say that because men dominate the political scene, the pro-women’s legislation has been watered down.

“Most of [women’s] issues have not been passed into law…and if passed, critical clauses are removed,” Touray says

Sillah explains: “They took out all the good things, all the crucial provisions in the Women’s Act dealing with marriage, inheritance … Also, they’ve refused to pass the provision on female genital mutilation. They took it out and this is about the reproductive health rights of women.”

Sillah called for an affirmative action quota system for the National Assembly that will allott at least 30 percent of seats to women.

“It’s time for women to be where the laws are made. So that when laws come that protect women’s rights, they can effectively engage to allow the bills to be passed.”

Haddy Nyang-Jagne is one of the four female members in the National Assembly from the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). She thinks that the government has done a lot to ensure women’s participation in politics and that one of the reasons for the low number of women in parliament is the existing cultural barriers.

“The government has created the enabling environment, sensitised women. Now, is it stigmatisation? Women are afraid to come out because people speak ill of them.”

“Is it lack of funding? In APRC, money is given to candidates…Sometimes, it’s about religious and cultural barriers. Some people would tell you our religion of Islam does not accept women taking part in politics and we know that proposition is unfounded,” Haddy, who is serving her second term in the National Assembly, says.

However, women from the opposition say that the democratic space for vibrant multi-party politics has shrunk as arbitrary arrests and detention of opponents have become the norm.

Mariama B. Secka, the secretary-general in the opposition United Democratic Party’s female wing, explains that it is hard to be part of the opposition in the Gambia. The country has been a one-party dominant state since 1996 when army leader and now President, Yahya Jammeh, formed the APRC after he took power in a 1994 coup.

“I was invited to a forum by the women’s federation. When I started introducing myself as a member of opposition party, I was heckled. I was totally harassed. It’s not easy at all. We need a more level playing ground,” she tells IPS.

And the only people who can change this are the country’s majority female voters.

“We’ve observed that most of the educated women don’t even vote. We want to remain in our comfort zones,” says Touray. “And until the educated woman goes to the grassroots, we may not be able to achieve what we want.”

But Touray is optimistic and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a female presidential candidate for as early as the 2016 presidential elections.

“Of course yes! Why not! It’s possible,” she says. “The political landscape is for everybody. Women are saying that they have a right to be there and we’re going for elective positions rather than being nominated.”

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Women Seek Stand-Alone Goal for Gender in Post-2015 Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:10:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133186 The 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual 10-day session Saturday with several key pronouncements, including on reproductive health, women’s rights, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the role of women in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The heaviest round of applause came when the Commission specifically called […]

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Brazilian women have been making headway in traditionally male-dominated areas. Construction workers in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Brazilian women have been making headway in traditionally male-dominated areas. Construction workers in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

The 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual 10-day session Saturday with several key pronouncements, including on reproductive health, women’s rights, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the role of women in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The heaviest round of applause came when the Commission specifically called for a “stand-alone goal” on gender equality – a longstanding demand by women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Still, the primary inter-governmental policy-making body on gender empowerment did not weigh in on a key proposal being kicked around in the corridors of the world body: a proposal for a woman to be the next U.N. secretary-general (SG), come January 2017.

"A Striking Gap"

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former U.N. under-secretary-general who is credited with initiating the conceptual and political breakthrough resulting in the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, told IPS the annual CSW session is the largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women, and thereby humanity as a whole.

"It attracts hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations and organisations. After the very late night consensus adoption, the agreed conclusions of its 58th session, which focused on the post-2015 development agenda, show a striking gap in firmly establishing the linkage between peace and development in the document," he said.

"The mainstream discussions in this context have always been highlighting the point that MDGs lacked the energy of women's equal participation at all decision making levels and the overall and essential link between peace and development. So, in UN's work on the new set of development goals need to overcome this inadequacy. Somehow this still remains in the outcome of CSW-58.

"Adoption of the landmark U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 boosted the essential value of women's participation. Its focus relates to each of the issues on every agenda of the U.N. There is a need for holistic thinking and not to compartmentalise development, peace, environment in the context of women's equality and empowerment," Ambassador Chowdhury said.

"It is necessary that women's role in peace and security is considered as an essential element in post-2015 development agenda."
“I did not hear it, but it’s a good question to raise given that a major section of the CSW’s ‘Agreed Conclusions’ were on ensuring women’s participation and leadership at all levels and strengthening accountability,” Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), told IPS.

She said that in pre-CSW conversations, she heard the names of two possible candidates from Europe – whose turn it is to field candidates on the basis of geographical rotation – but both were men.

“The question is: Is the United Nations ready for a woman SG?” she asked.

Dr. Abigail E. Ruane, PeaceWomen Programme Manager at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the biggest thing at the CSW session was support for a gender equality goal in the post-2015 development agenda and the integration of gender throughout the proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs).

She said the recognition of the link between conflict and development was also important because it is not one that is usually recognised.

Asked about the proposal for a woman SG, she said: “I didn’t hear any discussion of a woman SG in the sessions I participated in.”

Harriette Williams Bright, advocacy director of Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS), also told IPS the various civil society and CSW sessions she attended did not bring up the discussion of a woman as the next SG.

Still, she said the commitment of the CSW to a stand-alone goal on gender equality is welcomed and “we are hopeful that member states will honour this commitment in the post-2015 development framework and allocate the resources and political will needed for concrete progress in the lives of women, particularly in situations of conflict.”

Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor at Equality Now, told IPS her organisation was heartened that U.N. member states were able to reach consensus endorsing the idea that gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls must be addressed in any post-2015 development framework following the expiration of MDGs in 2015.

“Throughout the process there has been broad agreement that freedom from violence against women and girls and the elimination of child marriage and FGM must be achieved,” she said.

“Equality Now believes sex discriminatory laws, including those that actually promote violence against women and girls, should be repealed as soon as possible to really change harmful practices and social norms,” Kirkland added.

Cabrera-Balleza of GNWP said the call for a stand-alone goal on gender equality; women’s empowerment and human rights of women and girls; the elimination of FGM and honour crimes, child, early and forced marriages; protection of women and girls from violence; the protection of women human rights defenders; the integration of a gender perspective in environmental and climate change policies and humanitarian response to natural disasters; “are all reasons to celebrate.”

She regretted the CSW conclusions did not make a link between peace, development and the post-2015 agenda.

The earlier drafts of the Agreed Conclusions were much stronger in terms of defining this intersection, she noted.

“I hate to think delegates see peace and development and gender equality and women’s empowerment as disconnected issues or that peace is an easy bargaining chip. …that there is no text on the intersection of peace, security and development defies logic,” she said. “How can we have development without peace and how can we have peace without development?”

Cabrera-Balleza pointed out that “even as we hold governments accountable to respond to this gap, we need to have a serious dialogue among ourselves too as civil society actors – across issues, across different thematic agendas.”

Dr. Ruane of WILPF told IPS that despite longstanding commitments to strengthen financing to move words to action, including through arms reduction, such as included both in the plan of action at the Earth Summit in Rio (1992) and the Beijing women’s conference (1995), “governments gave in to pressure to weaken commitments and ended up reiterating only support for voluntary innovative financing mechanisms, as appropriate.”

In a statement released Monday, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) said that while the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls – particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health.

Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the agreement represents a milestone toward a transformative global development agenda that puts the empowerment of women and girls at its centre.

She said member states have stressed that while the MDGs have advanced progress in many areas, they remain unfinished business as long as gender inequality persists.

As the Commission rightly points out, she said, funding in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment remains inadequate.

Investments in women and girls will have to be significantly stepped up. As member states underline, this will have a multiplier effect on sustained economic growth, she declared.

At the conclusion of the session, CSW Chair Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines said “it is critical, important and urgent to appreciate every tree in the forest, and have an agreement on how big, how tall or how fat each tree.

“At the same time, we need to be mindful of the entire forest,” she added, pointing out that “the absence of peace and security in the discourse on post-2015 agenda does not make a whole forest.”

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OP-ED: Participation Is Key to Women’s Equality and Empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-participation-key-womens-equality-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-participation-key-womens-equality-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-participation-key-womens-equality-empowerment/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 17:04:01 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132819 The largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women and thereby humanity as a whole is now taking place in New York. It is the annual session of the Commission on Status of Women (UN-CSW) under the United Nations umbrella, attracting hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations […]

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Mar. 11, 2014 CSW event on accelerating progress on MDGs for women and girls. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Mar. 11, 2014 CSW event on accelerating progress on MDGs for women and girls. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

The largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women and thereby humanity as a whole is now taking place in New York.

It is the annual session of the Commission on Status of Women (UN-CSW) under the United Nations umbrella, attracting hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations and organisations.

This is the 58th time that CSW is meeting and over the years, its agenda has evolved in a meaningful way to bring to global attention to women’s equality and their contribution to human progress.

For last few years, equality of women’s participation at all decision making levels has taken a special profile in its deliberations and many parallel events. Participation has emerged as the major area of practical application for women’s agenda.

Courtesy of Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Courtesy of Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

At the same time, engaging men and boys for gender equality is being seen as an essential component of any proactive strategy.

Adoption of the landmark U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 boosted the essential value of women’s participation. For a long time, the impression has been that women were helpless victims of wars and conflicts.

In reality, women have shown great capacity as peacemakers. They assumed activist roles during conflicts while holding together their families and communities.

At the grassroots and community levels, women have organised to resist militarisation, to create space for dialogue and moderation and to weave together the shattered fabric of society. The contribution and involvement of women in the eternal quest for peace is an inherent reality.

The consensus statement that the Security Council issued on Mar. 8, 2000 formally and for the first time brought to global attention to fact that the contribution women have been making to preventing war, to building peace has remained unrecognised, under-utilised and under-valued.

It finally recognised that “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”.

This conceptual and political breakthrough led in October that year to the ground-breaking resolution 1325 of the Council on “Women and Peace and Security”.

Validity of its core message that sustainable peace is possible only with women’s full participation has become increasingly relevant in today’s context when we find women being excluded from peace conferences.

The current international practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarised inter-state security arrangements, is disappointing.

I draw your attention to the existing concept of security based on inter-state power structure rather than on human security – security of the people. Human security is rarely a primary consideration in the Security Council’s decision-making.

This should make us determined to ensure that women have more avenues to promote peace, not only at the local level but also at the national, regional and global levels.

By bringing their experiences to the peace table, women can inject in the peace process a practical understanding of the various challenges faced by civilian populations.

The mechanisms and arrangements that come out of such involvement are naturally more sensitive to the needs of common people and, therefore, more purposeful and sustainable.

Recognition that women need to be at the peace tables to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace, I believe, made the passage of 1325 an impressive step forward for women’s equality agenda in contemporary security politics.

This was reflected very eloquently when in 2011 three women were chosen as Nobel laureates. Their citation for the Nobel Peace Prize referred to the Resolution 1325, saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”

The Nobel Committee further asserted that, “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

This is the first time when a Nobel Peace Prize citation has mentioned a United Nations resolution so specifically.

The Charter of the United Nations in its Article 25 states that “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.”

Therefore, as a Security Council resolution 1325 is a commitment made by the United Nations, its member-states and the international community in general to take action to comply and work towards its full implementation.

In this context, I will underscore that top priority should be given to energising and supporting the U.N. member states to prepare their respective National Plan of Action (NAP) for 1325 at the country level.

Of 193 U.N. members, so far only 43 have prepared such plans and 10 more are reportedly on the way. A long way to reach 193!

Civil society, in particular women’s organisations, human rights activists and peace groups around the world, need to mobilise their efforts to hold governments accountable for the commitments they made in Resolution 1325.

There needs to be international support to ways and means to enhance women’s participation and role in formal and informal conflict prevention and mediation efforts, including measures for capacity-building support for women’s peace movements in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Coordinated and coherent support by the United Nations system is particularly needed to achieve greater effectiveness of peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts through the increased participation of women and strengthened capacity to address gender issues in peace and post-conflict planning processes.

It is essential that the views of both women and men are equally heard and recognised in society, and in economic and political planning and decision making. Only then can men and women equally and democratically influence progress in society.

My own experience during the course of my different responsibilities – more so during past 20 plus years – has shown that the participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building assures that their experiences, priorities, and solutions contribute to lasting stability, good governance and sustainable peace.

1325 is a “common heritage of humanity” wherein the global objectives of peace, equality and development are reflected in a uniquely historic, universal document of the United Nations.

We should never forget that when women are marginalised, there is little chance for the world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury was Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (2002-2007), Ambassador of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001), and initiator of the conceptual breakthrough for UNSCR 1325 as Security Council President in 2000.

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Legislators Seek Rightful Place at U.N. Talkfests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/legislators-seek-rightful-place-u-n-talkfests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=legislators-seek-rightful-place-u-n-talkfests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/legislators-seek-rightful-place-u-n-talkfests/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 20:12:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132760 When the United Nations hosts one of its mega conferences – whether on population, human rights, food security or sustainable development – there is always a demand for full and active participation of often-marginalised groups, including women, civil society, indigenous peoples and youth. But some of the world’s parliamentarians – who help implement most of […]

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) arrives with Babatunde Osotimehin (left), Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), for the opening of the 46th session of the Commission on Population and Development, Apr. 22-26, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) arrives with Babatunde Osotimehin (left), Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), for the opening of the 46th session of the Commission on Population and Development, Apr. 22-26, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations hosts one of its mega conferences – whether on population, human rights, food security or sustainable development – there is always a demand for full and active participation of often-marginalised groups, including women, civil society, indigenous peoples and youth.

But some of the world’s parliamentarians – who help implement most of the U.N.’s programmes of action through national legislation – are also battling to find their rightful place at international conferences.

This is not a shortcoming of the United Nations, say legislators, but the fault of governments that refuse to acknowledge the importance of parliamentarians in official delegations.

When the annual U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) takes place in New York next month, the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) wants all governments in the Asia-Pacific region to include “at least one parliamentarian committed to progressive population and development policy in their country’s official delegation.”

John Hyde, deputy director of AFPPD, told IPS parliamentarians are directly elected and connected to their communities.

“They can see first-hand the benefit of rights-based, evidence-based policies in improving the life of their constituents,” he said.

And they bring this relevance and commitment to their nations’ delegations, he said.

The Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) – which will be discussed at the CPD Apr. 7-11 – stressed the importance of parliamentarians, civil society and youth being involved in official delegations to the United Nations.

Confirming this, Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS “it is incredibly important we involve parliamentarians in development work, empowering them to appreciate and raise issues of population and development with their constituents, and gaining their support to champion global development in national policies, programmes, and budgets.”

In many countries, she pointed out, parliamentarians are already engaged in the process of monitoring their national progress on the ICPD PoA, and building political will and an enabling policy environment, and garnering needed resources for doing so.

Their example needs to be followed more vigorously around the world and inclusion of parliamentarians in national delegations is one way of recognising their role, said Mane, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

Hyde told IPS over a third of the Asia-Pacific nations included members of parliaments (MPs) in their delegations to the sixth Asia and Pacific Population Conference held in the Thai capital of Bangkok last year.

The Pacific nations demonstrated the value of well-prepared, engaged MPs, with Cook Islands delegate leader, health minister and AFPPD member Nandi Glassie presenting the majority outcome position on behalf of all the Pacific and a solid majority of Asian nations.

Source: ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report

Source: ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report

While many nations will not reveal their full delegation until just before April, many parliamentarians who contributed to APPC should be in their nations’ delegations at the CPD in New York, “hopefully with other parliamentarians embedded in delegations from the other regions of the world”, he added.

Hyde said parliamentarians from across Asia and the Pacific gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand last month to help craft the official oral statement on priority issues that AFPPD will present during the CPD in New York.

Asked whether the CPD will also focus on the successes and failures of ICPD, Mane told IPS, “While it is difficult to predict what particular issues will see the most attention at the Commission this year, we hope for a continued focus on human rights and individual dignity, the realisation of which is a driver for all areas of development.”

“At Pathfinder, we were encouraged by, and applaud, the focus on young people and women’s empowerment found in UNFPA’s most recent review, ‘ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report’,” she added.

Mane said she is also encouraged to see the reference to sustainability.

Without the engagement of all, including women and young people, as well as realisation of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, sustainable development will be hard to achieve in its truest sense, she said.

The upcoming session will likely touch on the successes and failures of the achievements of the ICPD agenda in the context of identifying key lessons learned “that will carry us forward for greater success in the coming decades.”

These will clearly differ by countries but the major focus needs to be on what is going to be done going forward to accelerate the momentum towards progress, Mane said.

Given that the upcoming session will certainly be shaped by the context of this year and the international focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and what comes next, “I believe it is crucial the right to sexual and reproductive health for all people shines through as we discuss the path forward and the post-2015 global development agenda.”

She said progress has certainly been made and momentum is growing through ‘Every Woman Every Child’ and many other efforts by several bilateral partners like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), national governments, philanthropic foundations, civil society and the private sector.

She said they are all working better through joint platforms, but many countries are still very much behind on equitable progress toward the MDG5 targets relating to the improvement of maternal health.

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Women Still Walk Two Steps Behind in Arab World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-still-walk-two-steps-behind-arab-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-walk-two-steps-behind-arab-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-still-walk-two-steps-behind-arab-world/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 20:49:00 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132522 In much of the Arab world, women’s participation in the labour force is the lowest in the world, according to the United Nations, while women in politics are a rare breed both in the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps one of the few exceptions is Algeria, says Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. […]

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Women protest in Tunis to demand protection of their rights. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Women protest in Tunis to demand protection of their rights. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

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

In much of the Arab world, women’s participation in the labour force is the lowest in the world, according to the United Nations, while women in politics are a rare breed both in the Middle East and North Africa.

Perhaps one of the few exceptions is Algeria, says Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women."There is no doubt that culture and religion play some role, but the fact remains that over the past 30 years, and particularly in the last decade, we have seen the rising tide of very conservative forces in the region." -- Sanam Anderlini

The North African nation has reached the critical mass of some 30 percent of women parliamentarians, while Saudi Arabia has broken new ground by welcoming women to the Shura council.

Still, with a regional average of female parliamentarians just above 12 percent, the Arab world remains far behind the already low global average of 20 percent, according to U.N figures.

Asked whether this was due to cultural or religious factors, Puri told IPS, “It is not easy to pinpoint a single cause for the low level of women’s participation in the labour force and in politics in the Arab world, and more generally, around the world.”

She said there is no doubt that entrenched gender stereotypes and social norms that condone discrimination against women play a negative role, but other factors also need to be taken into account.

These include, for example, access to and quality of education, opportunities to reconcile professional or political life with family responsibilities, the overall structure of the labour market, and prevalence of violence against women.

When representatives of women’s organisations meet in New York next week, one of the many issues before the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will be the low level of women’s participation in the labour force and in political and social life worldwide.

Women wearing the traditional Hijab attend the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in March 2010. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

Women wearing the traditional Hijab attend the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in March 2010. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

The CSW, scheduled to hold its annual sessions Mar. 10-21, is the primary inter-governmental policy-making body on gender equality and advancement of women.

This year’s session will focus on challenges and achievements in the implementation of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically for women and girls.

Sanam Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and a senior fellow at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told IPS: “We should steer clear of assuming that the low levels of participation in public spaces – political and economic – are ‘entrenched ‘cultural or religious values.’

“There is no doubt that culture and religion play some role, but the fact remains that over the past 30 years, and particularly in the last decade, we have seen the rising tide of very conservative forces in the region – largely supported by regional governments themselves – that are promoting a regressive agenda towards women.”

Let’s not forget that Egypt had a feminist movement in the 19th century, she added.

Puri listed several factors that negatively affect outcomes for women and girls.

These, she pointed out, include family codes and parallel traditional legal and justice systems that deny women property and inheritance rights, access to productive resources, sanction polygamy and early and child marriages, and put women at a disadvantage in marriage and divorce.

At the same time, it is essential to tackle negative misinterpretations of religion or culture that not only condone but perpetuate myths about inherent inequality between men and women and justify gender-based discrimination.

“As we at UN Women have pointed out, along with many faith-based and other organisations, equality between women and men was propounded centuries ago in the Arab region,” Puri said.

At the same time, governments along with all stakeholders, including civil society, need to put in place an enabling environment in order to increase women’s participation in all spheres of life, said Puri.

Anderlini told IPS that in the Arab world – like any other part of the world – there are always different cultural forces at play simultaneously: conservative and progressive.

But in the Arab world, the conservative forces are seeking to erase or discredit the gains made in the past.

“They like to associate ‘women’s rights’ with immorality and westernisation. It is a clear political agenda that is being fomented and we must not fall for the notion that it is ‘cultural’ or religious’,” said Anderlini, who was appointed last year to the Working Group on Gender and Inclusion of the Sustainable Development Network for the U.N.’s post-2015 economic agenda.

She also said Islam calls for equal rights to education for women and men – to equal pay, to women’s rights to inheritance and participation in public life.

“What’s being spread are extreme interpretations of Islam that may be rooted in countries like Saudi Arabia but are newer to Egypt, Tunisia or Lebanon,” she warned.

Asked how women’s participation can be advanced in the Arab region, Puri told IPS, “As elsewhere, achieving the advancement of women’s participation in the political, economic and social spheres in the Arab States requires interventions at multiple levels.”

First, a reform of state constitutions and laws as well as of traditional legal and justice systems and the creation of a conducive policy environment based on international women’s rights norms and instruments, such as the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, needs to be in place.

This environment should not only allow, but also encourage women to participate in the work force and in public life.

It must include temporary special measures, such as quotas in all public institutions. Education, training and skills building is also essential.

In the workplace, reconciling family responsibilities with professional life must be addressed, as women still undertake most of the domestic and care work, said Puri.

This must include effective maternity leave practices and provisions, affordable and accessible childcare and other caregiving structures, as well as incentives for men and boys to play a greater role in undertaking domestic work, such as compulsory paternity leave, she noted.

The policy environment also must focus on preventing violence against women at home, harassment at the workplace and in public spaces, so that women and girls do not fear any repercussions for partaking in public life.

Secondly, she said, there has to be bottom-up change.

“This means changing entrenched patriarchal mindsets and shift from attitudes and beliefs that focus on women’s reproductive role to women’s productive and public roles,” stressed Puri.

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Political Duels Collapse Into Sexist Squabbles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 02:55:30 +0000 Marwaan Macan-Markar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130864 Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.” The favourite target of the vitriol spewed […]

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Political protests in Thailand have led to gender attacks on the Prime Minister. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne/IPS.

Political protests in Thailand have led to gender attacks on the Prime Minister. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne/IPS.

By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)

Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.”

The favourite target of the vitriol spewed by the opposition-led agitation is Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first woman prime minister. The 46-year-old leader of the governing Pheu Thai Party has been called all sorts of abusive names by the opposition that has occupied five busy intersections here.“Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics."

It is such words that prompted reflection by Supaa, who is from Samut Sakhon, a province that borders the Thai capital. She was here to join tens of thousands of protestors on the streets and on Blue Sky, the television station that amplifies the views of the opposition Democrat Party.

“They are very emotional, the speeches,” she told IPS. “But it is not right to talk about sexual stuff.”

Many like her have been witness to how the original rallying cry – against government corruption, abuse of parliamentary majority and disrespect of the country’s revered monarch – has morphed into demagogy.

Those making the speeches are from Thailand’s educated class that is being tapped by Suthep Thaugsubana, former Democrat Party deputy chief and leader of the street agitators. The political veteran of over 30 years is eyeing them for his pool of “good people” to serve in his non-elected “People’s Councils” that, he believes, should govern the country for at least a year.

The open comments at the Bangkok rallies, and the rapturous applause they receive, have prompted some soul-searching in the Southeast Asian kingdom about the spectre of ugly sexism in the male-dominated political landscape.

It has taken a while, but Thailand’s mainstream women’s rights groups have finally broken their silence.

“When a network of women’s rights groups issued a statement denouncing a medical doctor for his ugly sexist attacks on caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, I admit I felt quite relieved,” wrote Sanitsuda Ekachai, a columnist on social justice issues with the English language Bangkok Post. Going by her weekly commentaries, she is certainly no fan of the Yingluck administration.

“For a long time I’ve been wondering why women’s rights groups have remained silent about the slew of degrading, sexist tirades made against Ms. Yingluck by various detractors.”

Among the few groups that have raised the red flag are the Coalition of Democracy and Sexual Diversity Rights. It has berated the “use of sexist, misogynist and denigrating language” as a political weapon. “The continuation of this rhetoric of violence, discrimination and hate cannot be permitted,” it said in a statement.

Yingluck’s rise as the country’s first woman leader has served as a reality check for Thailand’s feminist and women’s rights advocates. The latter gave her a cold shoulder when she led the Phue Thai Party to a thumping win at the July 2011 general elections to become, at 44, the youngest prime minister in 60 years.

Her position, they argued, was not the result of her own doing but the machinations of her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the twice-elected former prime minister who was deposed in a military coup in September 2006. Statements by Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, did not help.

When he plucked Yingluck out of her career as a businesswoman and nominated her to head the Phue Thai weeks before the poll, he publicly declared that the younger Shinawatra was his “clone”.

The typical display of Thaksin’s arrogance was grabbed by the largely Bangkok-based women’s groups known for being closer to the Democrats, who have not won a parliamentary majority in 20 years.

“How can we be proud? The whole world knows it’s about Thaksin,” commented a leading figure at the Gender and Development Research Institute in a newspaper report, under the headline, “Thailand’s first female PM no victory for feminism”.

“It is worth noting that while many leading Thai feminists are lukewarm at best or dismissive at worst at Yingluck’s sudden rise to power, men seem more willing to withhold judgement at this early stage,” Kaewmala, a prolific Thai blogger who comments on social issues, wrote at the time. “As most observers are tentative of the kind of leadership Ms. Yingluck will offer, her current support comes more often from men.”

By August last year, when Yingluck marked her second anniversary as premier, she was receiving kudos for a non-confrontational and consultative style of leadership that had managed to usher a sense of normalcy on Bangkok’s streets. Comparisons were made between her elected administration and the two-and-a-half-year administration that preceded her – a coalition government led by the Democrats that came to power through a backroom deal hatched by the powerful military.

The Democrat administration was tainted by the bloody showdown on Bangkok’s streets in May 2010 during a clash between pro-Thaksin protesters and the military. It left 91 people dead, at least 80 of them civilians, and more than 2,000 injured.

Yingluck’s beleaguered administration has avoided a hawkish response, enabling the would-be revolutionaries rallying to topple her government to lay siege on many government buildings. Confrontations with the riot police, clashes between the agitators and pro-Thaksin sympathisers, sporadic shootings and grenades lobbed at rally sites have resulted in nine deaths, with over 550 injured since November.

But what is really different since the 2010 showdown on Bangkok’s streets is the “sexist war” – perhaps reflecting the growing frustration of the agitators and a new low in Thailand’s political turmoil that has steadily divided the country since the 2006 coup.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic at the Southeast Asian Centre at Kyoto University in Japan told IPS, “Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics. It has intensified since Yingluck become prime minister. I have never seen anything like this, on this scale.”

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Women Advance in Distant Islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/women-advance-distant-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-advance-distant-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/women-advance-distant-islands/#comments Sat, 21 Dec 2013 07:34:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129676 Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands […]

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By Catherine Wilson
BUALA, Solomon Islands, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands is demonstrating that women leaders can drive development progress and win voter support.

Sikilabu did not have the same campaign funds as male candidates when she stood in the 2006 provincial election. But her unwavering commitment for more than a decade to bringing tangible improvements to rural lives that were blighted by hardship and lack of development paved the way for her landslide victory against six male candidates.

“To me, politics is helping a family to a better life, helping the family who are hungry, the elderly, the disabled, assisting communities to build toilets, providing access to solar energy,” Sikilabu told IPS in the Solomon Islands. “It is about really touching people’s lives.”

In a nation of more than 900 islands covered in dense tropical rainforest with few roads and widely scattered villages, the challenges of campaigning were enormous. Touring communities involved sleeping in the bush, swimming across flooded rivers and travelling by canoe in stormy weather.

It was the first time that remote communities in Isabel Province, which has a population of about 30,000, witnessed women bidding for election. Although society in Isabel is matrilineal, Sikilabu explained that habitually “boys are sent to school and that’s the beginning of this idea that women are not important in decision-making committees or meetings.”

While equality is enshrined in the constitution, broad acceptance of women in political power is yet to become a reality.

The World Bank reports there has been little progress in increasing women’s political representation in the Pacific region over the past decade. In the Solomon Islands only two women have been elected to the national parliament since Independence in 1978, Hilda Kari in the 1980s and recently Vika Lusibaea. In the 2010 national election, women contested 21 of 50 seats, but only received 4 percent of the vote.

On entering the provincial assembly with one other woman, Beverley Dick, Sikilabu perceived a public “desperate for change” and knew it was vital to achieve real outcomes during her first term in office.

“I said to the people, when I’m elected I will improve the things you are facing as problems in the communities,” Sikilabu said.

Water, energy, sanitation and health are some of the basic service needs in the province. Sikilabu strove first to provide electricity to the estimated 1,500 people in 16 remote communities in her ward or electorate.

“After my first four years, I had supplied solar energy systems to every family in every household in every village,” she said. “The children have light, so they can sit in the evening and do their homework. Now their pass marks are getting higher.”

Building and repairing rural health clinics that will serve more than 4,000 people is another achievement.

“Women have babies in their canoe, on the beach and children die from malaria,” Sikilabu said. “In the past we have had men leaders who haven’t done anything to address this problem.”

From the capital, Honiara, she coordinated the shipping of building materials, plumbing equipment, toilets, solar panels and water tanks to the Isabel islands to expedite work on the new clinic in Sigana ward and one under repair in Japuana ward.

“When the new clinic is open, most women will be within walking distance,” Sikilabu said. “Currently they have to paddle their canoes for up to three hours.”

Helen and Patlyn from Gurena village on the main Santa Isabel Island claimed that the efforts of local women leaders had also improved sanitation, housing and agricultural livelihoods through access to farm tools and more productive crops.

Today Isabel is home to two of the total six women in provincial governments in the country.

Through their leadership, “more social problems have been addressed and our voice is being heard on important issues, such as mining and logging,” Judy Tabiru, president of the Isabel Provincial Council of Women in Buala added.

Sikilabu has announced her candidature for the 2014 national election, and her achievements have attracted the attention of four political parties that are keen to have her join them.

However she is adamant that more elected women are needed to influence government policies and social change in a nation ranked 143 out of 187 for human development. For this to happen, addressing persistent gender inequality, in a country where female literacy is an estimated 14 percent, and increasing women’s economic and leadership capacity is critical.

“If we choose women who are educated, automatically they will have the confidence if they are elected to parliament,” Tabiru emphasised. “But for women in the provinces, they have to be trained in public speaking; they have to get more confidence.”

Isabel’s Ministry of Community Affairs conducts village training to develop female participation in decision-making and encourage their public advocacy on important community issues.

National Councils of Women, intergovernmental organisations and international donors also support women’s political aspirations in the region. In August Sikilabu spent time with the deputy speaker of the Victorian State Parliament, Christine Fyffe, as part of a regional mentoring exchange programme organised by the Australian Government’s Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project.

Temporary special measures, in the form of 10 reserved parliamentary seats for women, were proposed in 2008 in the Solomon Islands, but did not gain cabinet approval. Yet Sikilabu believes they are required.

“There are men and women who do not support temporary special measures. They feel it is giving special treatment to women, but in Malaita Province the women’s situation is different to mine in Isabel, so we are not all the same,” she said.

She emphasised it was also a responsibility of currently elected women to ensure that others followed in the future.

“We have to impact more women coming into government by being passionate, coming out in public and talking more and being seen to be addressing issues.”

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Q&A: “Libyan Women Were Handed Over as Spoils of War” http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/qa-libyan-women-handed-spoils-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-libyan-women-handed-spoils-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/qa-libyan-women-handed-spoils-war/#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2013 06:36:49 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129619 Unless immediate changes are enforced, Libya is heading towards an “Afghan” model regarding women´s rights, Aicha Almagrabi, a Libyan writer and senior women rights activist, told IPS from her residence in Tripoli. Women who fight for their rights in Libya “are constantly insulted, harassed and threatened,” lamented the 57-year-old university professor, who also chairs the […]

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Libyan writer Aicha Almagrabi says women were part of Libya’s revolution but seen no political benefits from their participation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Libyan writer Aicha Almagrabi says women were part of Libya’s revolution but seen no political benefits from their participation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Dec 19 2013 (IPS)

Unless immediate changes are enforced, Libya is heading towards an “Afghan” model regarding women´s rights, Aicha Almagrabi, a Libyan writer and senior women rights activist, told IPS from her residence in Tripoli.

Women who fight for their rights in Libya “are constantly insulted, harassed and threatened,” lamented the 57-year-old university professor, who also chairs the Organisation for the Defence of Freedom of Thought.

Almagrabi studied philosophy in Libya and France and is the author of four books of poetry, a novel and a play which has just been published in Arabic. She´s currently working on three other books, a task which she combines with her activism and lessons on “Philosophy of the Plastic Arts”.

Q: Last October marked two years since the overthrow and brutal killing of Muammar Gaddafi. What has changed for Libyan women since then?

A: Things have changed but not for the better, and we´ve lost the few rights we had. As an example, polygamy is still common currency in Libya but, at least, a man needed his wife´s approval to marry a second wife under Gaddafi (1969-2011). That is no longer required.

Actually, reviewing the law on polygamy was the first thing Mahmoud Jibril (head of the National Transitional Council) mentioned in his famous speech at the end of the (2011) war, even before talking about reconstruction or rebuilding civil society…

Changes? Libyan women were handed over as spoils of war.

At a street level, when women protest they face a lot of violence. Women advocating their rights are constantly insulted, threatened and harassed. We were part of the revolution, we had our own female martyrs, but we didn´t get any political benefits out of it.

Q: But some women do hold government positions today, don´t they?

A: They do, but they´re struggling to keep their seats. Their parties used them for mere electoral purposes. In the Committee of 60 (the group to be set up to write Libya´s constitution) there are only six seats for women.

One of the members of the General National Congress (the Libyan legislature) even suggested measures to prevent men and women from sharing the same space during meetings. Some figures are also eloquent: 90 percent of teachers are women but only two percent have reached the decision-making level.

Q: Nonetheless, politics seemingly play a lesser role compared to that of Libya´s mufti (religious high authority), Sadeq al Ghariani. Many say he is the country’s de facto leader.

A: The mufti holds religious power and is also backed by both the political and military bodies. They want Sharia (Islamic) law to be at the core of the penal code and the future constitution.

What they want to implement is actually based on their own interpretation of the Quran, so we could say that it´s more dangerous than the holy book. There´s always been a lot of talk about Sharia but few seem to notice that there are many versions of it: do we want the Iranian one? The Afghan? Maybe the Moroccan?

One of their main goals is to control women through their own vision of the Quran; that´s one of the reasons it is mandatory to keep religion separate from politics.

Girls at school are now forced to wear the hijab (a headscarf that covers women’s hair and necks but not their faces) and the mufti is also campaigning for all women to always cover their hair.

I´m a professor at Zaytuna University (in Tripoli), and I´m the only one who doesn´t cover her hair. The rest of my female colleagues wear either hijab or niqab (a headscarf and veil which reveals only the eyes). Their number is growing not because of the law – it´s more about group pressure.

Q: There are also rumours about a new fatwa (Islamic ruling) to be enforced from January 2014, according to which women won´t be able to travel across the country without a muharram (male companion).

A: It wouldn´t surprise me at all. I live outside the city, and on Feb. 13 I was stopped by a group of armed men on my way to work. They held me at gunpoint for an hour and a half because I had no muharram travelling with me. I took the issue to the media and it got the attention of the general public. On Mar. 14 we organised a protest called “the march for the dignity of women”. As usual, we were insulted, beaten and harassed.

Q: Is increasing violence in the country the most pressing problem for Libyan women today?

A: It´s just one among several. Women are limited by strong domestic ties. Besides, the streets are not safe for them. There are many street assaults and even kidnappings, but there´s still no visible will to grant women rights in the new constitution.

A low level of participation in civil society is also a big issue. We were very strong at the beginning (of the 2011 revolution) but growing pressure led to a decline in that strength since the end of the war.

Today we are very disappointed because we also took part in the revolution and now they want to change our ideals of freedom and justice through fatwas and religious speeches which have a very strong influence among the new generations.

Even Gaddafi switched to religion back in the 1980s when he realised that Islam could be an effective tool to gain greater influence over people. However, the lack of rights and freedom during his rule pushed many to more extreme positions, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Jihadists.

Q: What can help Libyan women in such a difficult scenario?

A: Even in the unlikely case that we finally get a constitution based on human rights, we would also need to conduct another revolution to change the mindset of Libyan women.

Nevertheless, a key question is to break the militia rule as well as that of all armed groups outside the umbrella of the national army and police before the constitution is written. If that doesn´t happen, we´ll be heading towards an “Afghan model” in women´s rights.

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Poll Finds Iranians Sceptical of Rouhani Government http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/poll-finds-iranians-sceptical-rouhani-government/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poll-finds-iranians-sceptical-rouhani-government http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/poll-finds-iranians-sceptical-rouhani-government/#comments Fri, 06 Dec 2013 16:51:08 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129344 A new poll following the election of President Hassan Rouhani says that a majority of Iranians oppose Iran’s intervention in Syria and Iraq and believe that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons despite their government’s claims to the contrary. The poll, released Friday and conducted Aug. 26-Sep. 22, of 1,205 Iranians in face-to-face interviews by a […]

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By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)

A new poll following the election of President Hassan Rouhani says that a majority of Iranians oppose Iran’s intervention in Syria and Iraq and believe that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons despite their government’s claims to the contrary.

President Hassan Rouhani in Bishkek, Sep. 13, 2013. Credit: kremlin.ru/cc by 3.0

President Hassan Rouhani in Bishkek, Sep. 13, 2013. Credit: kremlin.ru/cc by 3.0

The poll, released Friday and conducted Aug. 26-Sep. 22, of 1,205 Iranians in face-to-face interviews by a subcontractor for Zogby Research Services, also indicated that Rouhani had relatively lukewarm support at the time and that many Iranians would like to see a more democratic political system in their country.

The results jibe with the June presidential elections in which Rouhani won a bare majority of votes, albeit against half a dozen other candidates. Half of those polled after the election either opposed Rouhani or said that his victory would make no difference in their lives.

This reporter gained a similar impression of Iranian scepticism about their new president during a visit to Tehran in early August.

Not surprisingly, given the impact of draconian sanctions and mismanagement by the previous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government on the Iranian economy, the poll found that only 36 percent of Iranians said they were better off now than five years ago, compared to 43 percent who said they were worse off. However, the same percentage – 43 percent – said they expected their lives to improve under the Rouhani administration.

Among the most interesting findings were those related to foreign policy. The poll found that 54 percent believe Iran’s intervention in Syria has had negative consequences – perhaps a reflection of the financial drain on Iran of the war in Syria and of the unpopularity of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Nearly the same proportion of the Iranian population – 52 percent – also opposed Iranian involvement in Iraq, which is ruled by a Shi’ite Muslim government friendly to Tehran. Iranian activities in support of fellow Shi’ites in Lebanon and Bahrain were only slightly more popular, while only in Yemen and Afghanistan did a majority of Iranians say their country’s actions have had a positive impact.

Jim Zogby, director of Zogby Research Services, told IPS that Iranians know “Syria has become a huge problem in the world and they don’t want to have more problems with the world.”

The low marks for ties to Iraq may reflect “lingering anti-Iraq sentiment” stemming from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Zogby said.

Iranian attitudes toward democracy and the nuclear issue were also interesting. While a plurality of Iranians (29 percent) listed unemployment as their top priority, a quarter of the population rated advancing democracy first.

Other major priorities included protecting personal and civil rights (23 percent); increasing rights for women (19 percent); ending corruption (18 percent); and political or governmental reform (18 percent).

According to the poll, only a tiny fraction – six percent – listed continuing Iran’s uranium enrichment as a top priority. Yet 55 percent agreed with the statement that “my country has ambitions to produce nuclear weapons” compared to 37 percent who believe the government’s assertions that the programme is purely peaceful.

The Iranian government insists that it is not aiming to produce weapons and signed an agreement in Geneva Nov. 24 to constrain its nuclear programme in return for modest sanctions relief.

In a strong show of nationalism, 96 percent said continuing the nuclear programme was worth the pain of sanctions. Only seven percent listed resolving the stand-off with the world over the Iranian nuclear programme so sanctions could be lifted as their top priority and only five percent put improving relations with the United States and the West at the head of their list.

Zogby said it was not surprising that Iranians would give a low priority to the nuclear programme yet “when you push that button [and question Iran’s rights], the nationalism takes off.”

He noted those who identified themselves as Rouhani supporters were more inclined to affirm Iran’s right to nuclear weapons than Rouhani opponents – 76 percent compared to 61 percent.

The poll results, Zogby said, suggest that Iranians do not consider Rouhani an exemplar of the reformist Green Movement that convulsed the country during and following 2009 presidential elections, but rather as an establishment figure.

“His supporters are more in the hardline camp,” Zogby said.

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U.N. Urged to Practice What It Preaches on Gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/u-n-urged-to-practice-what-it-preaches-on-gender/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-urged-to-practice-what-it-preaches-on-gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/u-n-urged-to-practice-what-it-preaches-on-gender/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 22:42:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128635 Amidst a rise in sexual violence in the world’s war zones, the United Nations has begun appointing women to head some of the key political and peacekeeping missions in conflict areas – and also created Gender Advisers as a second line of defence. Still, there is growing scepticism among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activist groups […]

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Malaysian women peacekeepers of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at a medal ceremony in Kawkaba, south Lebanon, on Jan. 11, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

Malaysian women peacekeepers of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at a medal ceremony in Kawkaba, south Lebanon, on Jan. 11, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

Amidst a rise in sexual violence in the world’s war zones, the United Nations has begun appointing women to head some of the key political and peacekeeping missions in conflict areas – and also created Gender Advisers as a second line of defence.

Still, there is growing scepticism among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activist groups that much of the progress is scarcely more than window dressing."There is just a shortage of political will to see women in positions of power." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proudly claimed the appointment of five women as heads of U.N. peacekeeping missions, in Liberia, South Sudan, Cyprus, Cote d’Ivoire and Haiti.

But Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), a programme partner of the International Civil Society Action Network, told IPS, “We also need to look beyond the top leadership positions. We need to examine where women are in the overall architecture of peacekeeping missions.”

She said the middle level positions are just as critical because they are the ones who directly interact with the local populations who are directly affected by the conflicts.

Regarding Gender Advisers, she said it is equally critical to know where these advisers are located in the hierarchy of peacekeeping missions.

“They are the ones who ensure that a gender perspective is fully integrated in the functions of the peacekeeping missions,” she noted.

The problem is that often, the Gender Advisers are very low in the pecking order of the missions, said Cabrera-Balleza, whose GNWP is a coalition of women’s groups and civil society organisations from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, West Asia, Latin America, Eastern and Western Europe.

Last month, the secretary-general said that more women occupy the senior ranks of the United Nations than ever before.

“And this year I want to mention a new milestone in the participation of women in our work for peace and security: for the first time, one-third of our peacekeeeping operations – five of 15 — are headed by women,” he added.

These include Hilde Johnson in South Sudan, Karin Landgren in Liberia, Lisa Buttenheim in Cyprus, Aïchatou Mindaoudou in Cote d’Ivoire and Sandra Honoré in Haiti.

Ban has also appointed the U.N.’s first woman lead mediator in a peace process: former Irish President Mary Robinson as the special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa.

“We have more distance to travel,” he admits, “but we have never been this far before.”

Cora Weiss, U.N. representative of the International Peace Bureau, told IPS the secretary-general’s “words are fine and welcome but I wish we could feel his heart in this issue.

“When civil society women drafted what became the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 on women peace and security, we were looking at a future world without war,” she said.

Weiss also pointed out that while at least half the world’s population is female, Mary Robinson is the only woman lead mediator in a peace process: “And it’s 2013.”

“We need more women in decision making and peace making, but they need to be peace- and justice-loving women. The days of resort to force have to be over,” she stressed.

Addressing a Security Council meeting last June, Zainab Hawa Banguda, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, said that when she visited Bosnia early this year – “where an estimated 50,000 women had been targeted with rape and other forms of sexual violence” – she found that to date only a handful of prosecutions had occurred.

Thus, the victims of those crimes “continue to walk in shadow and shame, unable to lay the past to rest, and move forward,” she added.

After visiting the war zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) early this year, Ban admitted he met women and girls who had been raped and maimed by armed groups on all sides of the conflict.

He said many had a condition called traumatic fistula. In plain terms, they had been torn inside. Experiencing great pain and often unable to control bladder and bowels, they are disabled and often shunned by society, he added, pointing out the horrors of sexual violence in war zones.

The international community, through Security Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1960 (2010), has put in place a solid framework for responding to conflict-related sexual violence.

The mechanisms carry out global advocacy through U.N. Special Representatives, in collaboration with the U.N. Action Network against Sexual Violence in Conflict, comprising 13 U.N. entities.

Last month, the Security Council adopted yet another resolution (2122), also aimed at strengthening women’s participation in all aspects of conflict prevention.

“The argument that we in civil society have with the U.N. on the issue of women’s leadership remains: Practice what you preach. Lead by example,” Cabrera-Balleza told IPS.

“We also want to see more women with civil society backgrounds who have been working on peace and security issues for decades appointed to key positions in peacekeeping operations,” she said. “As we’ve seen in the past, bureaucratic experience has not contributed much in improving peacekeeping operations.”

She also said that while checking the list of peacekeeping missions again, she couldn’t fail to notice that there are three women deputy Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs): for the U.N. Office in Burundi ( BNUB), the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), and the U.N. Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

“Will these three women ever become heads of peacekeeping operations?” she asked.

There’s no shortage of qualified women. “There is just a shortage of political will to see women in positions of power,” she said.

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For Kurdish Women, It’s a Double Revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/for-kurdish-women-its-a-double-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-kurdish-women-its-a-double-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/for-kurdish-women-its-a-double-revolution/#comments Mon, 04 Nov 2013 06:46:00 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128562 “I got married when I was 14 and I already had four children at 20,” recalls Nafia Brahim. In her fifties now, she is working hard so that no other woman loses control of her life. Brahim is one of 12 members of the assembly that runs the Centre for Training and Empowerment of Women […]

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At Qamishli’s women centre, everyone is inspired by Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

At Qamishli’s women centre, everyone is inspired by Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
QAMISHLI, Syria, Nov 4 2013 (IPS)

“I got married when I was 14 and I already had four children at 20,” recalls Nafia Brahim. In her fifties now, she is working hard so that no other woman loses control of her life.

Brahim is one of 12 members of the assembly that runs the Centre for Training and Empowerment of Women in Qamishli, 680 kilometres northeast of Damascus. Theirs is a multidisciplinary action.

“We organise sewing and computer workshops for women but we also teach the illiterate to read and write in Kurdish language, we have gymnastics for the pregnant… all run by and for women,” Brahim tells IPS.

The most sought after course is called ‘women and rights’."We are not going to waste our first opportunity ever to get our rights."

“The emancipation of women begins when each of us finally understands that we actually have the right to emancipate, to be an individual capable of leading our own lives,” says Brahim, with all the enthusiasm of someone who has just been through the process.

She knows it was far from easy. After the uprising of 2011 against the Syrian government, the country’s Kurds opted for a neutrality that has forced them into clashes with both government and opposition forces. In July 2012 they took over the areas where they form a majority, in Syria’s north.

Today, the role played by women in Syria’s Kurdish areas is tangible from the very leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant party among Syrian Kurds.

“All of our organisations, social, political, military etc., are built up on quotas of 40 percent for women, another 40 percent for men and 20 percent for individuals regardless of their sex,” Asia Abdala, PYD co-chair tells IPS.

The reason, she says, is the “double” revolution of the Kurds in Syria.

“After suffering Damascus’s boot for decades, ours is a national struggle, but women liberation comes at the same time. We will not make the mistake of waiting until the war is over to achieve our rights,” declares Abdala.

There are now 16 centres to assist women, and three academies that seek to “eliminate the patriarchal mindset ruling society for thousands of years,” says the senior Kurdish leader.

Like the men, Kurdish women in Syria now wear the green overall of the newly created Kurdish police, or the blue one of the garbage collection service, or the camouflage uniform of the People’s Protection Units, a former militia turned into a proper army.

Local women are journalists in a warzone, and women teach long tabooed subjects.

“The liberation of society as a whole starts with the women gaining their freedom,” Ilham Ahmet, spokeswoman of the Democratic Society Movement (TEV DEM), an umbrella organisation for political parties as well as a large number of civil groups tell IPS.

“We are not going to waste our first opportunity ever to get our rights.”

Substantial progress has been made, but everyone at Qamishli’s women centre knows theirs will be an obstacle race.

“Since we set up this centre two years ago we have hosted more than 150 women. Most of them were fleeing an unwanted marriage, and many were just girls,” says 55-year-old assembly member Faiza Mahmud.

“N. Z. aged 15, married a man of 37 who beat her and took their son,” Mahmud reads from his register book. “R. T. 16, was raped and abandoned in Turkey by her 43-year-old husband…there are dozens of cases like these.”

“We offer legal and economic support to the victims and mediate with families to integrate them into a society that has rejected them,” recounts the oldest of the group next to a huge mural boasting the face of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Ocalan has been the only leader in the Middle East that ever championed for the rights of women,” says Mahmud, showing a sympathy for the guerrilla movement that is openly shared by the TEV DEM as a whole.

Nuha Mahmud, 35, also a volunteer, says Arab and Christian women also arrive at the centre asking for help.

“We often have to mediate with the local diocese to ease a divorce. For Christians it’s much more complicated than for Muslims.”

Over the seven months she has been working here, Mahmud says she has attended a large number of victims of sexual violence.

“Many cases are terrible because women who have been raped in the Middle East are often rejected by their families, and sometimes even killed by them.” Unsurprisingly, many women will never admit publicly they have been sexual assaulted.

Her testimony is matched by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) report of May 2013. The FIDH is a group that brings together 178 members of human rights organisations in over 100 countries.

The report denounces the high number of violations in Syria both by government and by the opposition and it underlines that fear of rape is one of the main reasons women have to flee the country.

The report also concludes that “the social stigma attached to having been subject to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence is very strong in Syria.”

At 16, Aitan Hussein knows that well. The youngest among the centre’s volunteers is, her colleagues say, a “key player” when it comes to tackling abused teenagers.

“The partnership between women of different ages gives me a very ample view of what women have gone through,” says Hussein, who combines her work at the centre with her high school studies.

This early activist says she feels lucky because her family “will not impose any additional burden, or a marriage of any kind.” But comfort at is not enough.

“I simply couldn’t stand idly by while women around are still being abused,” says the young Kurdish woman. “We have to keep fighting until nothing like this ever happens again.”

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OP-ED: How Women’s Rights Are Linked to U.S.-Iran Negotiations http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/op-ed-how-womens-rights-are-linked-to-u-s-iran-negotiations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-how-womens-rights-are-linked-to-u-s-iran-negotiations http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/op-ed-how-womens-rights-are-linked-to-u-s-iran-negotiations/#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 12:59:05 +0000 Fariba Parsa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128548 While U.S. and Iranian negotiators prepare for another round of nuclear talks in Geneva next month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been silent about another matter that could be even more indicative of his willingness to take on hardline conservatives. On Sept. 22, the Iranian parliament passed a law with an innocuous title but frightening […]

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Women’s sexuality is one of the most sensitive battlefields within the Islamic Republic of Iran. Credit: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/cc by 2.0

Women’s sexuality is one of the most sensitive battlefields within the Islamic Republic of Iran. Credit: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/cc by 2.0

By Fariba Parsa
WASHINGTON, Nov 1 2013 (IPS)

While U.S. and Iranian negotiators prepare for another round of nuclear talks in Geneva next month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been silent about another matter that could be even more indicative of his willingness to take on hardline conservatives.

On Sept. 22, the Iranian parliament passed a law with an innocuous title but frightening potential. The “Protection of Children and Adolescents without Guardians or with Bad Guardians” allows a man to marry his stepdaughter or adopted daughter, in effect legalising child abuse.In Iran, women’s bodies are a political subject; control over their bodies is a reflection of political power.

The law repeals a previous piece of legislation passed by parliament in February that forbade such marriages. However, the Council of Guardians, a clerical body dominated by hardliners, disapproved the earlier law, finding it against sharia.

The latest iteration added an article (27) which says that a father may marry his stepdaughter or adopted daughter if the marriage is approved by the State Welfare Organisation and a court. In spite of this addition, many Iranians fear the new law will undermine the welfare of thousands of families with stepdaughters and adopted daughters.

Iranian women’s organisations and human rights activists both inside Iran and in the diaspora have organised massive protests against the law on Facebook. The rights groups and activists assert that the law legalises pedophilia, child abuse and rape under the guise of protecting children. Most Iranians were not aware of the controversy until the second bill passed in parliament last month.

Women’s sexuality is one of the most sensitive battlefields within the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Iran, women’s bodies are a political subject; control over their bodies is a reflection of political power. Women’s sexuality is a tool for Islamic conservatives to demonstrate their interpretation of Islamic ideology and identity.

While President Rouhani has talked repeatedly of his respect for women’s rights, he has been silent about the new law. In ratifying the law on Oct. 2, the 12 Islamic conservatives who make up the Council of Guardians demonstrated that they still have power and control over the most sensitive political matters. These are the same individuals who, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will approve or reject any nuclear compromise Rouhani makes with the United States.

Women’s activists are wondering whether Rouhani will speak out about the marriage law in the near future. If the president and his cabinet oppose this radical and immoral law, he will show that he supports democracy and equal rights for women. If he is silent, it will show that he either will not or cannot oppose the Islamic conservatives on a crucial matter.

Iranian women have shown that they have potential power to affect change in Iran in the direction of more democracy and human rights. Iranian women have been fighting for their rights for more than a century and the women’s movement began with the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906. Beginning in the 1920s, women began to attend universities although they did not achieve the right to vote and be elected to office until 1963.

Women were also in the front lines of the 1979 revolution against the Shah. But the Islamic government that replaced the monarchy diminished women’s rights, scrapping the Shah’s progressive family law and reducing the legal age of marriage from 18 to nine.

A re-invigorated movement succeeded in raising the age to 13. Today the average age of marriage for girls is 24. Iranian women have also attained a high educational standard, comprising more than 60 percent of university students. Population growth has slowed as women have become more educated; the average number of children women bear has dropped from seven in 1960s to two in 2010.

Women are also the most organised element of Iranian society, with about 5,000 women’s groups. They work together to promote their rights despite differences in religious beliefs, ethnic identity and political factions.

The best known effort is the One Million Signatures Campaign for Gender Equality, which has been promoted by key figures including human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The campaign has mobilised several thousand women debating women’s rights and collecting signatures to change laws that discriminate against women.

More than 70 women’s activists were arrested and sent to prison for their participation in this campaign, which was the most organised element during the 2009 Green Movement. “Women will build democracy in Iran,” Ebadi has said.

A victory for Iranian women is a failure for Islamic conservatives who view controlling women’s sexuality and oppressing women’s organisations as part of conservatives’ fight for survival.

In negotiating with Iran about its nuclear programme, the Barack Obama administration should not forget about women’s rights and the need to strengthen civil society and support for human rights and democracy in Iran.

Fariba Parsa is a visiting scholar at the Centre for the Study of Gender and Conflict, George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

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Saudi Arabia, Sans Human Rights, Seeks Council Seat http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/saudi-arabia-sans-human-rights-seeks-council-seat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudi-arabia-sans-human-rights-seeks-council-seat http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/saudi-arabia-sans-human-rights-seeks-council-seat/#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 20:22:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128503 When Saudi Arabia permitted women to vote but not drive, a newspaper cartoon last year captured the double standard with dark irony. As a group of women in burqa wait in line to vote at a polling station in Riyadh, an aggressive-looking polling agent tells the women, “We have a small problem here. We need […]

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Everyday life for women and girls in Saudi Arabia depends on the goodwill of male guardians at all times. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

Everyday life for women and girls in Saudi Arabia depends on the goodwill of male guardians at all times. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2013 (IPS)

When Saudi Arabia permitted women to vote but not drive, a newspaper cartoon last year captured the double standard with dark irony.

As a group of women in burqa wait in line to vote at a polling station in Riyadh, an aggressive-looking polling agent tells the women, “We have a small problem here. We need your driver’s licence as identification.”"Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression." -- HRW's Joe Stork

The only country in the world where women are still not permitted to drive is in the running for a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) for a three-year term, beginning January 2014.

The elections for the four vacant seats in the Asia-Pacific group, based on geographical rotation, are scheduled to take place in the General Assembly Nov. 12. The five candidates in the running are China, Jordan, the Maldives, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

Since Saudi Arabia rejected its Security Council seat after being voted into office last week, there is speculation whether it will do the same in the 47-member HRC, if it wins the seat.

Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told IPS, “Our Geneva team has asked around and no one apparently has heard that Saudi Arabia may not accept the HRC seat. Obviously that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but we won’t comment on it at this point.”

Suad Abu-Dayyeh of the New York-based Equality Now told IPS that Saudi Arabia, like many countries around the world, needs to make substantial improvements to its provision and protection of the rights of women and girls.

“These fundamental human rights abuses such as the lack of a minimum age of marriage and an effective ban on women driving have been well-documented and are extremely damaging,” she said.

Everyday life for women and girls in Saudi Arabia depends on the goodwill of male guardians at all times – a predicament which utterly limits freedom of movement for the Kingdom’s women and girls and something which needs to be urgently changed, she said.
Recent indications that Saudi Arabia has been making very tentative steps to address this situation are positive, but much more is needed, she added.

“We encourage the Kingdom to use all opportunities for positive engagement as stepping stones towards making transformational advancements in its treatment of women and girls,” she added.

Last week, scores of women defied the government by driving through the streets of Saudi Arabia. According to published reports, the police detained several women drivers and asked them to sign pledges not to drive in the future.

Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a Saudi cleric, said last week the campaign to permit women drivers in Saudi Arabia would lead to ruined marriages, a low birth rate, spread of adultery, more car accidents and “excessive spending on beauty products.”

Last week, Saudi Arabia was one of the countries whose human rights record came under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) undertaken by the HRC.

But HRW’s Coogle told IPS Saudi Arabia’s engagement in its UPR was little more than delivering prepared statements that failed to respond to detailed criticism on its rights record.

“Saudi Arabia took the UPR as a routine foreign policy obligation, not as an opportunity to commit to urgently needed reform,” he said.

In a statement released last week, HRW singled out a litany of human rights violations by Saudi Arabia.

Since the beginning of 2013, Saudi Arabia has convicted seven prominent human rights and civil society activists on broad, catch-all charges, such as “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom,” “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” and “setting up an unlicensed organisation.”

Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, said many countries have problematic records, “but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression and its failure to carry out its promises to the Human Rights Council.”

Despite longstanding reform promises, the government of Saudi Arabia has failed to make substantive changes, said a statement released by HRW. “In particular, it should improve its arbitrary criminal justice system, abolish the system of male guardianship over women, and throw out discriminatory aspects of its sponsorship system for foreign workers, which leave workers vulnerable to abuses including forced labour.”

Saudi Arabia also stands out for its failure to heed the recommendations of its most recent Human Rights Council review in February 2009.

HRW said Saudi Arabia should sign and ratify core U.N. human rights treaties and agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, a strongly pro-Israeli non-governmental organisation (NGO), was quoted as saying, “Making Saudi Arabia a world judge on women’s rights and religious freedom would be like naming a pyromaniac as the town fire chief.”

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Solomon Men Learning Wisely to Respect Women http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/solomon-man-learning-wisely-to-respect-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=solomon-man-learning-wisely-to-respect-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/solomon-man-learning-wisely-to-respect-women/#comments Sun, 20 Oct 2013 09:16:38 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128278 In the Solomon Islands in the south-west Pacific, where two in three of the estimated female population of 252,000 have experienced physical and sexual partner abuse, recognition is growing that ending the cycle of violence cannot be achieved without the partnership of men as catalysts of change. And initiatives by men are gaining support. “It […]

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Pastor Michael Ramo is taking a lead in campaigning among men to end violence against women. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pastor Michael Ramo is taking a lead in campaigning among men to end violence against women. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

By Catherine Wilson
HONIARA, Solomon Islands, Oct 20 2013 (IPS)

In the Solomon Islands in the south-west Pacific, where two in three of the estimated female population of 252,000 have experienced physical and sexual partner abuse, recognition is growing that ending the cycle of violence cannot be achieved without the partnership of men as catalysts of change. And initiatives by men are gaining support.

“It is time for men to stand up for their part to play to see that women are treated as human beings of important value to the family, the community and the nation as a whole,” Pastor Michael Ramo in the settlement of Feraladoa, home to 5,000 people in capital Honiara told IPS. “There is a need for men to rise up and walk hand in hand in supporting women and ending violence against women.”

This year Ramo participated in the Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) programme organised by development NGO, Live and Learn, in Honiara. The 18-month project, with donor support, engaged close to 50 men from 27 informal settlements, home to about 35 percent of the city’s population of 64,600, to become champions of social change.“Violence is a huge issue and this is only the beginning of a long, long journey."

According to Haikiu Baiabe, country manager for Live and Learn, the initiative aimed to “break through to men and get them to take the lead in dealing with issues that are labelled as men’s problems.”

Men, he said, readily acknowledged that violence against women is a serious issue, but “giving them space where they could express themselves freely” during the project encouraged constructive dialogue.

The MAVAW programme was designed by men and women from the communities involved, who contributed their understanding of the key factors which led to violence. Live and Learn then worked with participants on the four main issues identified, which were managing finances, understanding family values and responsibilities, tackling violence generally in communities, and empowering individuals with intervention and counselling skills.

Numerous studies, including this year’s United Nations report on why so many men use violence against women in Asia and the Pacific, indicate a strong connection with gender inequalities and prevalent stereotyped ideas of masculinity.

The report revealed that 81-98 percent of the 10,000 men and 3,000 women surveyed agreed with the principle of gender equality, but not necessarily when it came to specific roles and responsibilities. More than 70 percent believed that ‘a woman should obey her husband’.

Pionie Boso, policy officer for the programme End Violence Against Women (EVAW) at the ministry of women, youth and children affairs says that the equality gap between gender roles in the Solomon Islands has been entrenched over generations. The result is persistent perceptions of females as possessing a lower social status than males, with predominant women roles confined to the domestic sphere with low participation in public decision-making.

Boso agreed that there was a shared responsibility in working towards social justice, and involving men “is a critical part of the process.”

She added that it was important that “when they come on board they acknowledge and understand the experiences of women as victims.”

The 2008 Solomon Islands family health and safety study revealed that additional factors in family violence included the practice of bride price and punishment of women for disobeying spouses. According to Baiabe the comprehensive definition of violence which encompasses emotional abuse, controlling behaviour and economic deprivation is yet to be widely understood in communities.

Men’s experiences, according to the region-wide UN report, included high levels of employment related stress and depression.

Before the MAVAW initiative, Ramo had not felt sufficiently equipped to help people suffering from high levels of tension. But he said the programme “gave me a lot of skills to handle very stressed or even traumatised men and this gives me strength in my dealings with people and the community.

“I wish that other friends could have joined in because, at my level, there are only a few people who know how to deal with these kinds of situations and have the counselling skills,” he said.

Ramo said that men can share the burden of stopping and preventing violence against women by intervening in incidents, promoting non-violent male identities and influencing peers to rethink the way they manage relationships with women.

A man needs “to be sensitive when there is a problem between him and his wife,” he said. “He needs to listen; every husband needs to listen first in order to handle the situation safely for the woman.”

Given the continuity of domestic violence down generations, the government has overseen the mainstreaming of gender in secondary school curriculums.

In Honiara, the Family Support Centre which provides support services to women and children who suffer violence, conducts gender sensitising workshops focussed at youths from 13 years. These address questions of what gender is, why gender violence is a crime and a social injustice, and how men carry a responsibility to help solve problems within families.

Baiabe added that breaking the cycle also entailed reinforcing the responsibilities of raising children and nurturing caring values within the family.

Following MAVAW’s conclusion, and with a view to sustainability, community support groups with resources were set up and registered in ten urban settlements.

However Ramo and Baiabe acknowledge that men across the country need to be engaged to support wider social change as a long-term goal.

“We have only touched the surface of communities in Honiara,” Baiabe said. “Violence is a huge issue and this is only the beginning of a long, long journey. We need to look at greater community involvement, greater reach and greater impact.”

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