Inter Press ServiceWomen in Politics – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 “Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

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Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

 

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Lawmakers Impose Gender Parity in Argentina’s Congress, By Surprisehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 01:24:15 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153274 It was an unexpected move by a group of women in the lower house of the Argentine Congress. At one o’clock in the morning, during a long parliamentary session, they demanded the approval of a stalled bill for gender parity in political representation. There was resistance and arguments, but an hour later, the initiative became […]

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A group of women legislators in Argentina’s lower house, who in the early hours of the morning led a surprise vote that resulted in the approval of the law on gender parity in Argentina’s political representation, celebrate their achievement at the end of the historic session. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

A group of women legislators in Argentina’s lower house, who in the early hours of the morning led a surprise vote that resulted in the approval of the law on gender parity in Argentina’s political representation, celebrate their achievement at the end of the historic session. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 1 2017 (IPS)

It was an unexpected move by a group of women in the lower house of the Argentine Congress. At one o’clock in the morning, during a long parliamentary session, they demanded the approval of a stalled bill for gender parity in political representation. There was resistance and arguments, but an hour later, the initiative became law by a large majority.

With votes from all the parties, a historic step was taken for Argentine politics: as of the next legislative elections, in 2019, all the lists of candidates for Congress must necessarily alternate male and female candidates, to ensure equal participation in both houses.

The law also stipulates that women have to make up half of the lists of candidates for national positions of the political parties, although in this case it does not require an alternation of women and men."This is the result of many years of efforts for politics to incorporate the voice and presence of women when it comes to making decisions that impact society as a whole." -- Deputy Victoria Donda

The surprise move in the early hours of the morning on Nov. 23 by female lawmakers revived a stalled bill that was already approved by the Senate 13 months ago, and by a committee in October, but was not scheduled for debate in the lower house this year.

When the session finally ended at almost four o’clock in the morning, the speaker of the lower house, Emilio Monzó of the ruling Cambiemos alliance, asked the euphoric women legislators who had taken part in the mission to take a group photo. And many others joined the picture to demonstrate their support.

“It was an intelligent strategy that cut across party affiliation to revive an issue that kept being put off. Once there was agreement to vote, almost everyone did so in favour of the measure. With what arguments could a lawmaker publicly justify voting against it?” asked Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA).

ELA is one of the many civil society organisations that have been demanding the approval of a gender parity law for more than 10 years, a period of time in which dozens of bills were presented.

Gherardi told IPS that this law “represents a new paradigm of parity democracy, which should not be limited to the legislative branch. Politics must reflect the diversity of society.”

Another stride forward in Latin America

In Latin America, Ecuador has been a path-breaker, after giving constitutional status to gender parity in elective posts in 2008.

Legislators who supported the new law at four o'clock in the morning on Nov. 23, 2017 took a group photo when the historic session in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies ended, after passing a law that imposes gender parity in political representation. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

Legislators who supported the new law at four o’clock in the morning on Nov. 23, 2017 took a group photo when the historic session in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies ended, after passing a law that imposes gender parity in political representation. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

A report on parity democracy in the region, by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), within the Organisation of American States (OAS), concluded that the region is the most advanced in the world with respect to laws that protect women’s political participation.

Argentina is the fifth country to regulate parity in parliamentary representation, after Ecuador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico.

But in total there are 15 countries in Latin America that have legislated on gender parity or have established quotas ranging from 20 to 50 per cent in elective posts.

However, these laws have not always been applied effectively, according to a document from the project “Atenea: Mechanism for the Acceleration of the Political Participation of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and International Idea, aimed at promoting political parity in Latin America.

Argentina is a pioneer in the region, having passed the first female quota law, in 1991, which set a mandatory floor of 30 percent of women on the lists of candidates, “in proportions likely to lead to election.”

However, the report ”Political Parity in Argentina. Advances and Challenges “, presented this year by the Atenea project points out that, although the quota law favoured women’s access to politics, over the years the set quota of 30 percent became “a difficult ceiling to break through.”

Alejandra García, a gender associate at UNDP Argentina, told IPS that women’s political representation in the country “had been stagnant. That is why this new legislative step forward is very positive.”

García maintains that the quota laws “are affirmative action laws and have a temporary nature, while this new law is conceptually different, since it seeks to guarantee parity representation in a definitive way “.

The issue of gender parity in parliaments entered Argentine politics at the beginning of this century, when the regional legislatures of three of the country’s 23 provinces passed gender parity laws: Santiago del Estero, Córdoba and Río Negro.

The matter was revived last year, when four other provinces passed laws (Buenos Aires, Chubut, Salta and Neuquén), while at the national level the Senate approved the bill on gender parity.

It was on Oct. 19, 2016 when the issue of political parity had major repercussions, coinciding with massive marches of women throughout the country against sexist violence, under the slogan “Not one [woman] less”, in response to several femicides or gender-based murders.

However, at the same time, the lower house was discussing an electoral reform bill promoted by the government of President Mauricio Macri, which among other issues included changing the voting system from paper ballot to electronic, but did not include any changes regarding gender issues.

The parity bill now is only waiting to be signed into law by the executive branch, which is taken for granted after it was approved with 57 votes in favour and only two against in the Senate, and 165 positive votes, four negative and two abstentions in the Chamber of Deputies.

“This is the result of many years of efforts for politics to incorporate the voice and presence of women when it comes to making decisions that impact society as a whole,” said Deputy Victoria Donda.

This member of the progressive Free of the South Movement was the one who interrupted the programmed course of the session on the night of Nov. 22, to demand a vote on the gender parity bill, without the need for debate or speeches, which generated a discussion but was quickly accepted.

“The overwhelming vote in favour reflected the progress of the demands for equal rights,” added 40-year-old Donda, who is somewhat of a symbol of Argentine democracy.

This is because she is the daughter of disappeared parents, and was born in the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), the most infamous of the torture centres run by Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Donda was stolen at birth by the family of a member of the security forces and regained her true identity in 2003.

Still pending in Argentina with respect to gender parity in politics are the executive and judicial branches.

In 2016, there were just 13.6 percent women in ministerial positions, according to data from Atenea.
At the level of municipal governments, there is only official data from the eastern province of Buenos Aires, the largest and most populous, where only 2.9 percent of mayors are women.

The proportion rises to 31.7 percent in city councils, where the 30 percent quota established by national legislation is applied.

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Historic Resolution on Women & Peacekeeping Remains Mostly Unimplementedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:24:02 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152792 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

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Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

At the 26 October launch of GNWP’s (Global Network of Women Peacebuilders) manual “No Money, No NAP” on dedicated budgetary allocation to fund the implementation of the 1325 National Action Plans, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka characterized UNSCR 1325 as the most unimplemented resolution of the UN Security Council.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN

Representing the UN Secretary-General, his Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribiero Viotti said at the Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security on 27 October that “…seventeen years since the passage of resolution 1325, our own implementation remains too often ad hoc. While there is a clear recognition of the relationship between gender equality, women’s participation and stability and resilience, too little is being done to operationalize this understanding.”

I agree with both of them in a big way particularly bearing in mind that adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture.

We need to understand that 1325 by itself envisages a broad-based conceptual transformation of the existing international policies and practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of the Security Council’s support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements.

I am referring to the concept of security based on current strategic power structures rather than on human security which highlights the security of the people. That change itself remains very distant.

Here I would mention enthusiastically a dedicated woman, Peace and Security Program which was launched last week at New York’s prestigious Columbia University. Led by 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate dynamic Leymah Gbowee, this Program has identified all the key areas which need special attention, particularly emphasizing the human security dimension and grassroots level experiences in WPS agenda. I wish her and the Program all success!

Apart from that I find there four areas where greater progress was possible during last 17 years:
One, in real terms, National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of 1325. It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 68 out of 193 UN Member States have prepared their plans – what a dismal record after 17 years.

Leymah Gbowee launches WPS Program at the Columbia University, as its Executive Director

There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable. There needs to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs.

Two, I would say that special attention should be given to building awareness and sensitivity as well as training of the senior officials within the UN system as a whole with regard to 1325. That will create a foundational culture of recognizing women’s equality of participation as essential.

Three, another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. We should not forget that when civil society is marginalized, there is little chance for 1325 to get implemented in the real sense.

Four, what role the Secretary-General should play? I believe there is a need for his genuinely active, dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325. Would it not have a strong, positive impact on countries for the implementation of 1325 if their leaders received a formal communication from the S-G suggesting a date for submission of respective NAPs?

Implementation of 1325 should be seriously taken up in the SG’s UN system-wide coordination mechanism – at the next CEB meeting. DPI needs to have an information and awareness raising strategy for 1325 – mainstreamed in its work – not as an event and anniversary oriented publicity.

UN Resident Coordinators who represent the SG and the whole UN system at the country level and UN country teams should assist all national level actors in preparation and implementation of national action plans.

In short, through implementation of 1325, we want complete and real, practical, functional, operational equality between women and men to end the cycle of all forms of extremism which continue to sabotage humanity’s quest for sustainable peace and development.

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Despite Odds, Women Gain Stature in African Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:47:43 +0000 Kwamboka Oyaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152510 Once in a while, Africa produces talented women politicians who, despite the odds, overcome the obstacles that impede their success in the political arena. Some of the African women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and former interim […]

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Launch of the African Women Leaders Network in New York. Credit: UN Photos

By Kwamboka Oyaro, Africa Renewal*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

Once in a while, Africa produces talented women politicians who, despite the odds, overcome the obstacles that impede their success in the political arena.

Some of the African women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and former interim president of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

For most African women, however, the political terrain is too rough to navigate. Few make the journey, perceiving that their male colleagues would try to undermine them. In their effort to take up leadership positions, qualified African women can expect to confront gender-based attacks, including being labelled “prostitutes” or “concubines”. Sometimes they are sexually harassed, and they often contend with men seeking sexual favours as preconditions for support.

Propositions from senior male office holders as a precondition for entry into the field are unacceptable, says former Nigerian senator Uche Lilian Ekwunife. She adds that this is a tactic men have used for years to discourage women from entering the political fray.

Ms. Ekwunife recollects her 2011 re-election campaign for Nigeria’s House of Representatives, when her opponent superimposed her head on a naked body and sent the picture to YouTube “just to demean my person.” Luckily, that childish slur backfired, and Ms. Ekwunife easily won the election to the legislative body.

Four years later, when she sought election to the senate in 2015, her experience was less pleasant. Although she was re-elected to become one of six women out of the 109 senators in Nigeria’s upper law-making body, her political journey was short.

The courts nullified her election after she had been in the senate only six months. She believes that her election’s nullification was politically motivated, even though there was the issue of her switching political parties at the last minute.

Ms. Ekwunife’s experience is not unique among women political hopefuls in Africa. For example, just two days after activist Diane Shima Rwigara declared her intention to run for the presidency in Rwanda’s general election in August this year, social media was awash with purported nude pictures of her. Her candidacy was disqualified by election officials.

In neighbouring Uganda, a member of the opposition Zainab Fatuma Naigaga and some male colleagues were arrested on their way to a political rally in October 2015. But it was only Ms. Naigaga who was stripped naked by abusive police officers, while the men were left alone.

In Kenya, MP Millie Odhiambo Mabona was analysing the country’s Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014 in Parliament when a commotion on the floor degenerated into a free-for-all brawl.

Ms. Mabona says she was assaulted by two pro-government MPs. “That day I was in a dress and these men kept pulling it up while I pulled it down. They went ahead and tore my panties,” Ms. Mabona told Africa Renewal in an interview.

One of the accused male MPs was quoted in the local dailies, saying, “I slapped her because she wanted to assault the deputy speaker. That was great disrespect.” The MPs later passed the bill on security laws.

Women facing sexual harassment must call the men’s bluff, says Ms. Mabona. “If they threaten me with exposing my sexual encounters, I tell them I would also expose those that I went out with.” Ms. Ekwunife, taking a different tack, says “women need to focus and ignore these distractions.”

Besides issues relating to their bodies and their private lives, African female politicians, most of the time, begin their career in politics later in life, and start from a position of disadvantage of having to balance family and work. They also tend to have less money than their male counterparts to spend on campaign expenses.

Shauna Shames of New Jersey’s Rutgers University-Camden, writing about “Barriers and solutions to increasing women’s political power,” notes that “when money dominates politics, women lose out. With women having persistently lower incomes for many reasons, they are far less likely than men to be in the social and business networks that pour money into political campaigns.”

Major political parties rarely nominate women for elected positions during primaries because of the belief that women stand a slim chance of winning against men. In Kenya, for example, all the leading parties nominated men as presidential candidates for the August 2017 elections.

Sometimes a political party will attempt to curry favour by nominating women, yet will not fully back the female politicians to win elections, explains Ms. Ekwunife.

Women candidates are more vulnerable than their male counterparts to electoral violence, including physical attacks on the candidates themselves, their families or supporters, from the campaigns to election time, says Ms. Mabona.

The Kenyan government pledged to enhance security for women aspirants in the lead-up to the August 2017 general election. The cabinet secretary for interior security, the late Joseph Nkaissery, in June announced the government’s intention to protect women candidates, but also told them to be “tough,” without explaining what he meant, leaving pundits to infer a tacit approval for women to be violent.

Ms. Mabona herself witnessed raw violence early this year during her political party’s fiery primaries in her Mbita Constituency in western Kenya. Her bodyguard was killed and her house was burned down.

Will the ground be level anytime soon for women politicians in Africa? Dismas Mokua, a political analyst with Trintari International, a Nairobi-based public relations firm, says women in Africa have made some impact in politics but could do better. Most societies are patriarchal and don’t expect women to take up leadership positions, explains Mr. Mokua.

“Running for a public office requires resources. A lot of women candidates may not have the requisite finances,” says Mr. Mokua. Against all odds, the time is now for Africa’s visionary female politicians to join politics and change the narrative.

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information.

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Malala Yousafzai Becomes UN’s Youngest Messenger of Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace/#comments Mon, 10 Apr 2017 20:51:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149896 Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai has become the youngest UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education. During a designation ceremony, UN Secretary-General António Guterres selected and honoured Yousafzai as the organisation’s Messenger of Peace. “You are the symbol of one of the most important causes of the world…and that is education […]

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Malala Yousafszai with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2017 (IPS)

Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai has become the youngest UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education.

During a designation ceremony, UN Secretary-General António Guterres selected and honoured Yousafzai as the organisation’s Messenger of Peace.

“You are the symbol of one of the most important causes of the world…and that is education for all,” said Guterres.

“Admiring your courageous defense of the rights of all people including women and girls to education and equality [and] honoring the fact that you have shown, even in the face of grave danger, the unwavering commitment to peace…it takes great pride and pleasure in proclaiming Malala Yousafzai a United Nations Messenger of Peace,” he continued.
"I think people should look at me and all of the other 1.6 billion Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at a few terrorists…they are not us,” -- Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai, 19, became a symbol for the fight for girls’ education after being shot in Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2012 for opposing Taliban restrictions on female education. She has since become a global human rights leader, becoming the the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate and co-founding the Malala Fund to raise awareness of the millions of girls without access to formal education.

“I stood here on this stage almost three and a half years ago…and I told the world that education is a basic human right of every girl…I stand here again today and say the same thing: education is the right of every child and especially for girls, this right should not be neglected,” Yousafzai said upon accepting the role.

Over 130 million girls are out of school today. Girls often lack access to education because they have to work, care for younger siblings, or are married early. Many also face violence, posing additional barriers for school attendance.

Beyond issues of education, Yousafzai has also been an outspoken advocate on issues of conflict and refugees.

On the escalation of violence in Syria, she stated: “To the children under siege in Aleppo, I pray that you will get out safely. I pray that you will grow up strong, go to school and see peace in your country some day. But prayers are not enough. We must act. The international community must do everything they can to end to this inhumane war.”

Most recently, Yousafzai condemned the U.S. executive order banning people from several Muslim-majority countries, writing that she is “heartbroken” and asking President Donald Trump to not turn his back on families fleeing violence and war.

“I’m a Muslim and I’m proud to be a Muslim… I think people should look at me and all of the other 1.6 billion Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at a few terrorists…they are not us,” she said during the designation ceremony.

Both Yousafzai and Guterres noted the challenges that refugee families face in camps.

Worldwide, approximately 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education. The gap widens as children grow older with 22 percent having access to secondary education and less than 1 percent with access to universities. In Lebanon alone, only half of Syrian refugee children can go to school.

“This shows how little the international community is doing to educate refugee children,” said Guterres.

“It is our responsibility, especially in the richest countries, to express our solidarity to all those who unfortunately cannot provide to their children the education they have the right to receive,” he continude.

The Malala Fund helps fund schools around the world, including education programs in the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan.

Messengers of Peace are distinguished individuals, carefully selected from various fields by the Secretary-General, to help raise awareness on the work of the UN. Others Messengers of Peace include U.S. actor Leonardo Di Caprio, Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and U.S. singer Stevie Wonder.

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Women and Tribal Leaders Call for “Balanced” Libyan Peace Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:42:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149611 A delegation of Libyan tribal leaders and women leaders has called on the UN to take a balanced approach to the Libyan peace process. The delegation from the National Movement for Libya (NML) met with UN officials and U.S. government representatives while visiting New York and Washington D.C. to discuss the UN-led peace process in […]

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"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City." Credit: MAFO

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

A delegation of Libyan tribal leaders and women leaders has called on the UN to take a balanced approach to the Libyan peace process.

The delegation from the National Movement for Libya (NML) met with UN officials and U.S. government representatives while visiting New York and Washington D.C. to discuss the UN-led peace process in Libya.

“We don’t have a state, we don’t really have a government to control everything. The whole institution has collapsed after 2011,” said Libya Institute for Advanced Studies’ Head of the Mediation Department Ali Masoud to IPS.

“The only thing to help people find a solution and help peace-building is the tribal leaders or community leaders,” he continued.

Despite a UN-brokered peace deal known as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in 2015, which established the internationally-backed unity government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, armed factions have continued to battle for control over the oil-rich nation.

Most recently, pro-unity government armed forces expanded their control in the capital of Tripoli, fighting rival militias including groups allied with former Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweli.

Ghweli was ousted from power when al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) took office and has refused to recognize the new administration, instead forming his own Government of National Salvation (GNS).

Khalifa Haftar, who leads troops for a third rival government in the Eastern region of the country, also opposes the UN-backed GNA but has focused on battling Islamist militias including the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia and Islamic State (ISIS). His Libyan National Army (LNA) recently recaptured major oil ports from militias.

The NML was formed to address the country’s complex conflicts and engage in reconciliation efforts. However, community leaders have been left out of the peace process.

“[The UN] has carried on with the political track with politicians who are really not representative of the Libyan people,” Masoud told IPS.

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

“Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City.” Credit: MAFO

“They failed to start the tribal track which is really very important to engage tribes in Libya where they feel they own this political agreement and own the [dialogue] process,” he continued, adding that the dialogues stopped inviting tribal leaders as they were hosted outside of Libya.

Another NML representative Nour Elayoun Mohamed Abdul Ati Alobeidi highlighted the role that women have played in mediation, pointing to a case in the southern Libyan town of Ubari where Tuareg and Tebu tribes have clashed.

“In that war, men tried to mediate to stop the fire, but it was only when women decided to build a mobile tent in the middle of the shooting—only then the war stopped immediately because of those brave women who initiated this even though it was risky but they weren’t scared because they wanted the war to stop,” she told IPS.

Alobeidi said that tent was established to bring together the two sides to have a dialogue.

“This led both sides of women to understand that their pain is the same. And those women, the same women who were against each other, helped in bringing peace back to the Ubari area,” she continued.

Masoud and Alobeidi called on the inclusion of community leaders to create a National Charter that represents and ensures the rights of all Libyans.

“There is no national charter, no constitution, no surveys to understand what Libyan people demand, what they would like exactly, and what kind of a system they hope to have after this era of dictatorship,” Masoud told IPS.

They believe that creating a National Charter is essential before holding elections in order to help unite Libyans.

They also called on the international community to support inclusive tribal and political tracks that focus on building institutions rather than on one person or politician.

“All these tracks should feed each other, and when a national agreement is reached, then we will shrink the power of these politicians–they will have no space for violence, only the vision of Libyans that they should rely on,” Masoud told IPS.

The NML consists of tribal groups that both supported and opposed Gaddafi during the 2011 revolution. The delegation of tribal and women leaders was sponsored by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies, with the support of Finn Church Aid.

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“The Struggle Continues” for Human Right to Peace and Inclusion of Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/#respond Thu, 16 Mar 2017 20:07:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149456 UN officials and activists gathered to discuss the essential relationships between sustainable peace and gender equality during a two week-long UN meeting, begining March 13. At a side event of the 61st session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), panelists shed light on the important role that women play in peace and […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

UN officials and activists gathered to discuss the essential relationships between sustainable peace and gender equality during a two week-long UN meeting, begining March 13.

At a side event of the 61st session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), panelists shed light on the important role that women play in peace and development.

“Without peace, no development is possible. And without development, no peace is achievable. But without women, neither peace nor development is possible,” said Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury.

Despite this, panelists noted that societies have long ignored women’s contributions.

According to an Oxfam report, women carry out up to 10 times more unpaid care work than men. This work is worth approximately $10 trillion per year, which is more than the gross domestic products (GDPs) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.

Research has also shown that almost 60 million unpaid workers are filling in the gaps caused by inadequate health services, majority of whom are women who have had to give up employment or education to carry out this role.

Chowdhury added that there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world if women had the same access to resources as men.

Panelists were particularly concerned with the lack of formal recognition of the human right to peace and the inclusion of women in this goal.

Canadian activist Douglas Roche explained the ‘human right to peace’ arose to address new “interconnected” challenges that the current human rights framework, which is based on a relationship between the State and the individual, is unable to do, including increased militarism by both State and non-State entities.

During the panel discussion, UN Independent Expert in the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas stated that the human right to peace also allows for the realization of the right to self-determination which is a “crucial conflict prevention strategy.”

After decades of struggling to gain consensus, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Peace in December. Though it was a significant accomplishment achieved largely due to a civil society initiative, many have expressed their disappointment in the document.

“The new declaration is falling far short of the expectation of civil society, many governments,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Among concerns about the declaration is its lack of reference to women which is only mentioned once in the 6 page document.

President of Hague Appeal for Peace and long time peace activist Cora Weiss criicised the document’s language, which calls for women’s “maximum participation.”

“It’s a slippery word,” she told participants, stressing the importance of “equal” inclusion of women to achieve peace.

Weiss was a national leader of the Women Strike for Peace, which organised the largest national women’s protest of the 20th century and contributed to the end of nuclear testing in the 1960s. She was also helped lead the anti-Vietnam war movement, including organising one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in 1969.

“There is no limit to the relationship between women and peace,” Weiss said.

Chowdhury, who led the initiative on Resolution 1325 calling for the increase in women’s representation in conflict management and resolution, echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Women at the peace table is a very important element at the UN and at the Security Council to take into account. Unless they value the 50 percent of humanity positively contributing to securing peace and security, it will move nowhere.”

Despite the unanimous UN adoption of Resolution 1325, little has been done to enforce and implement it. No woman has ever been the chief or lead mediator in an UN-led peace negotiation.

Panelists also criticised the absence of language around disarmament in the Declaration.

“How are you going to make peace in a world that is awash with weapons?” Weiss asked.

According the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist and are owned by just nine countries. The Arms Control Association (ACA) estimates a higher inventory of 15,500, 90 percent of which belong to Russia and the United States. Almost 2000 of these warheads are on high alert and are ready to launch within minutes, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found.

More general military spending also continues to dwarf resources provided to development activities including education.

In 2014, global military spending was approximately 1.8 trillion dollars while 26 billion dollars was provided to achieve education for all by the end of 2015.

Zayas highlighted the need to redirect resources used for war to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address other pressing socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

Chowdhury also told participants that a resolution on peace cannot and should not be adopted by vote.

“Peace is the ultimate goal of the UN,” he said.

The Declaration was approved with 131 vote for, 34 against, and with 19 abstentions, reflecting a lack of consensus on the subject.

Though he expressed fear that progress towards gender equality may be rolled back due to a reversal in trends, Chowdhury said the struggle will continue until the human right to peace is recognized and implemented.

CSW is the largest inter-governmental forum on women’s rights, bringing together civil society, academia, and governments. This year’s theme is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

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Travel Restrictions Cast Shadow on UN Women’s Meeting: Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:27:56 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149442 Increasing travel restrictions have prevented delegates from attending this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), according to several women’s rights groups. The travel constraints go beyond U.S. President Donald Trump’s embattled travel ban on refugees and Muslim-majority countries, which was again blocked by a Federal Judge on Wednesday. Although the Executive Order […]

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A view of the General Assembly Hall during the opening meeting of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Stats of Women (CSW). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

Increasing travel restrictions have prevented delegates from attending this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), according to several women’s rights groups.

The travel constraints go beyond U.S. President Donald Trump’s embattled travel ban on refugees and Muslim-majority countries, which was again blocked by a Federal Judge on Wednesday.

Although the Executive Order has not been re-enacted, women’s rights groups perceive that organising internationally is becoming more difficult. They report that some potential delegates were surprised that they were unable to obtain U.S. visas for the UN meeting; others were worried about increasingly strict treatment at U.S. airports; while others were prevented from travelling by their home countries.

The annual Commission on the Status of Women is usually one of the most vibrant and diverse meetings at UN headquarters in New York with hundreds of government ministers and thousands of delegates attending from around the world.

Sanam Amin from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) told IPS that two members of the group’s delegation from from Bangladesh and Nepal, countries that “are not listed in the first or second version of (Trump’s travel) ban,” were unable to obtain visas.

“Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials,” said Amin.

Amin also said that she had “been in contact with UN Women in Bangladesh, in Bangkok (ESCAP) and in New York over the visa refusal issue,” for weeks before the meeting, trying to find a solution.

“Those who were refused were expected by us to speak or participate in our side events and meetings with partner organisations and official delegations.” The APWLD, is an NGO which has accreditation with the UN Economic and Social Chamber.

Others unable to attend the event include a youth activist from El Salvador who on Wednesday participated in a side-event she had been meant to speak at, via video. Meanwhile women’s rights activists Mozn Hassan and Azza Soliman from Egypt were unable to attend because the Egyptian government has prevented them from leaving the country

"Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials," -- Sanam Amin.

Representatives from civil society having difficulties obtaining visas to travel to attend UN meetings in the United States pre-dates the current Trump-Republican Administration. The U.S. Department of State advised IPS that it could not comment on individual visa cases. However while there are many potential reasons why visas may be refused, several groups perceive travel becoming more difficult in 2017.

“It’s incredibly ominous to have women’s rights activists feel like the revised executive order and overall hate rhetoric from the Trump administration makes them feel unsafe coming to this CSW and that is what we have heard,” Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International told IPS.

“We’ve heard women’s rights activists say that they worried about how they would be treated at U.S. borders and airports. We heard LGBTI activists who were coming to this meeting also worry about their own safety.”

Both Stern and Amin expressed concern about the implications and meanings of the travel ban, even though the courts have continued to keep it on hold, because even the revised ban, specifically restricts travel for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“The ban text even cites violence against women – in section one – in the six countries as reason to ‘not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred’,” said Amin.

“In fact, it (would restrict) civil society from those very countries from participating in events such as CSW. Instead, their governments are emboldened to take more regressive positions on women’s human rights, and the U.S., with its Global Gag Rule among other anti-women policies, is taking its place side-by-side with the very countries it has targeted with the ban,” she said.

Stern added that the theme of this year’s CSW – the economic empowerment of women – should not be a politicised issue.

“(It) should be a non-partisan issue that every government in the world can get behind because every government has a vested interest in the eradication of poverty and national economic development and we know that women are the majority of the world’s poor and so if you empower women economically than you empower families communities and nations,” said Stern.

She emphasised the importance of the meeting as a global forum for people who are actively working for gender justice around the world to speak with governments.

At the CSW “thousands of activists for women’s rights and gender justice (speak) with every government of the world to say what struggles they have from their own governments and the kind of accountability that they expect from the international system,” says Stern.

The rights organisations sponsoring the No Borders on Gender Justice campaign include: MADRE, Just Associates (JASS), Center for Women’s Global Leadership, AWID, Urgent Action Fund, Women in Migration Network and OutRight Action International.

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16-Hour Days for Zimbabwe’s Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/16-hour-days-for-zimbabwes-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=16-hour-days-for-zimbabwes-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/16-hour-days-for-zimbabwes-women/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:00:20 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149257 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year's International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

As the cock crows, Tambudzai Zimbudzana, 32, is suddenly awakened from sleep. She quickly folds her blankets and strides outside her three-room, sheet iron-roofed house in rural Masvingo.

Picking up a few logs of firewood from a huge pile, Zimbudzana sets a fire to boil water and prepare food for her husband to bathe and eat before cycling to work.“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large.” --Kelvin Hazangwi

“Shorai! Shorai! Shorai!” Zimbudzana calls her 14 year-old daughter who is fast asleep to assist her with other duties.

“My day begins at 4 am, cooking, setting a fire, fetching water and spending the rest of the day in the field or garden depending on the season. My day often ends at ten in the evening as I have to ensure all household work is done, including attending to the demands of my six children, before I put my body to rest,” Zimbudzana told IPS.

She said she rarely attends community activities because of time and work that demands her presence.

Many women and girls carry the heavy, unequal and seemingly natural burden of care work, which is rarely appreciated, not financially beneficial and deeply rooted in culture.

“In recent years, significant evidence and research findings demonstrate that investments in addressing unpaid care burden– by governments, civil society and employers – improve wellbeing, women’s enjoyment of their rights, economic development and reduce inequality,” says Anna Giolitto, Oxfam Programs Manager on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) program.

Since 2014, Oxfam in Zimbabwe has been working to strengthen women’s economic rights by building data on unpaid care, innovate on interventions and influence policy and practice to address care as part of women’s empowerment.

Oxfam has carried out programmes in three districts since 2014 and developed two tools to assess unpaid household work and care of people in the communities: The Rapid Care Analysis and Household Care Survey.

“The key aim is to reduce the time or labour required for daily housework and caring for people, and thus increase women’s participation, empowerment, leadership and representation in both the public and private spheres,” Giolitto told IPS.

Results of the survey showed that women do 3–6 times more hours of care work than men.

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

On Mar. 8, countries around the world will come together to commemorate International Women’s Day, under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work”.

According to UN Women, the world of work is evolving, with significant implications for women. There is globalization, technological and digital revolutions and opportunities for women.

However, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies, and environmental impacts have a negative effect on the well-being of many women in Zimbabwe and the world. As such, they must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.

Women in the informal economy in Zimbabwe grapple with a hostile economic environment, security and customs officials on a daily basis.

Lorraine Sibanda, President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), says, “Our goods are confiscated at border posts due to the limited amount of goods one is allowed to bring into the country. We end up paying more money to transporters in order to get reasonable stock across the border.”

Sibanda added that the transporters’ charges are not consistent and one may pay several times for the same goods.  Further, they have to carry heavy loads of goods over a long period of time, which can have health implications for these women involved with cross-border trading.

“Little or lack of knowledge of customs and exercise procedures such as declaration of goods also contributes traders falling prey to predatory transporters, immigration personnel and other elements who prowl the border post for a living,” Sibanda told IPS.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Office (ZimStats) has noted that 84 percent of the country’s working class are in the informal sector, with 11 percent in formal employment. Further, ZCIEA told IPS that 65 percent of its members are women.

Though Oxfam does not work with women cross-border traders in Zimbabwe, it has used the “four R’s” approach for change.

  • Recognize care work at policy, community and household level, make it visible and value it. Change the idea that it’s just natural activity of women, it’s work.
  • Reduce care work through using time labour saving technologies and services;
  • Redistribute responsibility for care more equitably – from women to men, and from families to the State/employers.
  • Represent carers in decision making.

“Women will be able to do more when there are men sharing the responsibility at home as well as playing a key role in decisions at their households,” Giolitto said.

Kelvin Hazangwi from Padare (Men’s Forum on Gender) also emphasized the need to share unpaid care work.

“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large,” says Hazangwi.

Padare is a men’s forum advocating for gender equality in Zimbabwe.

ZCIEA believes the informal sector is the future, thus gender-inclusive economic policies, formalization of informal trading, decent infrastructure, provision of social protection, healthcare services, recognition of informal traders as key economic players will result in sustainable, inclusive growth.

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Women’s Rights Activists: “Nevertheless, We Persist”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-rights-activists-nevertheless-we-persist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-rights-activists-nevertheless-we-persist http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-rights-activists-nevertheless-we-persist/#comments Thu, 02 Mar 2017 16:40:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149202 Human rights groups have expressed concern for the future of global negotiations on women’s rights in a climate of restrictive policies ahead of an upcoming annual UN meeting on the status of women. While discussing the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organisations highlighted the importance of intersectionality in the discussion of women’s […]

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The theme of the 2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women will be economic empowerment. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2017 (IPS)

Human rights groups have expressed concern for the future of global negotiations on women’s rights in a climate of restrictive policies ahead of an upcoming annual UN meeting on the status of women.

While discussing the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organisations highlighted the importance of intersectionality in the discussion of women’s rights and implementation of relevant social and economic policies, referring to the importance of considering the many different ways that women can be marginalised.

“You need to look at issues of education, issues of mobility, issues of violence in the workplace, issues of sexual and reproductive rights of women…as a precursor to employment,” said President of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) Françoise Girard.

Negotiations have begun to create an outcome document for the CSW, whose main theme for 2017 is women’s economic empowerment.

“We feel very strongly that you cannot talk about women in a world of work globally without looking at the other factors that keep women from decent work,” Girard told IPS.

However, the initial draft failed to address these issues adequately with no mention of girls’ access to education or young women’s access to reproductive health care, she said.

“If women don’t have access to education or ethnic minorities are discriminated in the school system…or [lack] the ability to control their fertility and reproductive health…that will have a huge impact on their ability to be in paid work,” Girard told IPS.

Co-Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) Eleanor Blomstrom also noted the “disappointing” lack of language around climate change.

“If we don’t address [climate change], then we don’t have a planet on which to live where women can exercise their full rights,” she said during a press conference.

Girard and Blomstrom also expressed alarm at the implementation of policies that further restrict women’s rights and thus economic empowerment.

The global gag rule, reinstated by the Trump administration, forbids non-governmental organisations receiving U.S. global health funding from working on issues around abortion regardless of other sources of funding. It also blocks recipients from participating in any national discussions on abortion.

Under the Bush administration, the policy only applied to family planning funds. This is the first time the condition has been applied to all global health assistance which makes up USD 9.5 billion, including funding for HIV and maternal health.

Girard cited the example of Kenyan organisation Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) which receives approximately USD 200,000 to provide a range of reproductive health services including the treatment of postpartum haemorrhage. However, they are now left in a precarious position of whether or not to limit their services.

“Now they are having to choose—they cannot provide comprehensive health care anymore if they accept U.S. government funding, but they don’t want to stop training providers for postpartum haemorrhage,” said Girard.

Girard and Blomstrom noted that including such intersections of women’s issues in the CSW outcome document will help pave the way for governments to implement longer-term, detailed plans that allow for positive development opportunities and outcomes for women.

And there has been some progress, they added, with governments contributing to a new draft that views women’s participation in the world of work in a more holistic manner.

The new draft has thus far pulled language from the Paris Climate Change Agreement to address the intersections between women’s economic empowerment and environmental and climate change concerns, and highlighted the “crucial” need for men and boys to share household work and work towards a fair division of labor.

“I am pleasantly surprised at this early stage that there is real recognition (of these issues),” Girard said.

She also noted the important mobilisation around the world for and after the Women’s March on Washington which saw millions of protestors gather for women’s rights.

“I see the energy is very high, people are mobilised, the actions are continuing and we’re not going away, we’re not going back,” Girard told IPS.

The organisers of the Women’s March have planned a women’s strike on March 8, which also falls on International Women’s Day.

“In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women’s March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognising the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity,” the organisers state.

And in that same spirit and despite the potential disagreements that are expected to occur as CSW negotiations proceed, “nevertheless, we persist,” said Girard and Blomstrom.

The term is a play on words after U.S. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, said ““She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” in reference to U.S. Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, after Warren was told to stop reading out loud a letter by Coretta Scott King – the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. – earlier this month.csw

Governments and civil society from around the world will be convening for CSW at the UN Headquarters in NY from 13 to 24 March to discuss and implement plans to promote women’s rights.

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The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe. Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life […]

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Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:49:02 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148665 Erika Guevara Rosas is Americas Director at Amnesty International.

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A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality. Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing […]

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Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

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Gender Equality “Clear Priority” for New UN Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/gender-equality-clear-priority-for-new-un-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-clear-priority-for-new-un-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/gender-equality-clear-priority-for-new-un-secretary-general/#respond Tue, 13 Dec 2016 06:40:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148195 Achieving gender equality in UN staff appointments will be a “clear priority” for incoming UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, when he takes up the UN’s top administrative role in January 2017. Guterres who was sworn in as Secretary-General at a ceremony at UN Headquarters on Monday, said that achieving gender parity among UN staff will will form […]

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António Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Achieving gender equality in UN staff appointments will be a “clear priority” for incoming UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, when he takes up the UN’s top administrative role in January 2017.

Guterres who was sworn in as Secretary-General at a ceremony at UN Headquarters on Monday, said that achieving gender parity among UN staff will will form an important part of his agenda for his first 100 days in office.

“In the appointments I’ll be making – and the first ones will be announced soon – you will see that gender parity will become a clear priority from top to bottom in the UN,” Guterres told journalists after the ceremony.

Guterres was selected as UN Secretary-General by the 15 members of the UN Security Council in October.

His selection upset campaigners, and many within the UN, who had hoped that the successor to Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s eighth Secretary General, would be the first woman to lead the international organisation in its more than 70 years.

However UN member states proved unready to seriously consider a woman for the role, with several highly qualified female candidates failing to perform well in successive UN Security Council votes.

Guterres, like many of his rivals, campaigned on a platform of gender equality, and is keen to show that despite his own gender he is committed to promoting women within the UN system.

He noted that the first target to achieve gender equality within the UN had been set as the year 2000 and that the new target year of 2030 was too far off.

“The UN set itself a goal of reaching gender parity by 2000,” Anne Marie Goetz, Professor in the Center for Global Affairs at New York University told IPS. “It set that goal in 1993. 23 years later and progress in reaching the goal has been pathetic, faltering, and sometimes flatlining.”

Despite commitments from current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, senior appointments in 2015 and 2016 have repeatedly gone to male candidates.

“While gender, geographic and other forms of diversity are incredibly important, merit should be the primary consideration for every appointment,” -- Natalie Samarasinghe

However while Guterres will bear the responsibility for making numerous high level UN appointments, Goetz noted that UN member states also bear responsibility for the lack of women in high-level positions at the UN.

“The Secretary-General relies on Member States to supply suggestions about qualified candidates for these high profile roles,” said Goetz, who is also a member of the Campaign to Elect a Woman Secretary-General.

According to various media reports, one of Guterres’ first appointments is expected to be Nigerian Minister of the Environment, Amina Mohammed as Deputy Secretary-General.

“Ms Mohammed’s appointment is an excellent choice but not a specific gain for gender equality at the UN as the Deputy position has been held by women before,” said Goetz.

Unlike the position of UN Secretary-General the position of Deputy Secretary-General has been previously held by two women.

However Goetz noted that this role has been more likely to be given to women, not only because it is not selected directly by UN member states, but also because “women are much more commonly found in the deputy or second rank position than they are at the very apex of power.”

Meanwhile, Guterres also noted that the same concerns with gender representation also applied to regional diversity in UN senior appointments.

However, pressures from powerful UN member states to appoint their own candidates to high level positions should not overcome the need for high calibre candidates, Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK told IPS.

“While gender, geographic and other forms of diversity are incredibly important, merit should be the primary consideration for every appointment,” said Samarasinghe who also represents the 1 for 7 Billion campaign which has pushed for a more open and transparent process for the selection of the UN Secretary-General.

“Several General Assembly resolutions make clear that there should be no monopoly on senior posts by any state or group of states,” said Samarasinghe.

“States – especially those that feel entitled to certain jobs – should field high calibre candidates. They should not try to foist failed or inconvenient politicians onto the UN.”

However despite the General Assembly resolutions, certain top UN roles are usually taken up by nationals of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For example, the current head of UN Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous is a national of France. Rumours are circulating, that China, which has recently increased its own involvement in UN peacekeeping, may have its eye on this role from 2017.

Meanwhile, recent media reports have suggested that the UK’s David Milliband may be being put forward for the role of Administrator of the UN Development Program, currently held by former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark.

Milliband, who is currently head of the International Rescue Committee, may have appropriate qualifications for the role, however this would mean that the UN’s top development body would again be led by an administrator from a developed country.

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High Voter Turnout at U.S. Elections a “Public Good”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/high-voter-turnout-at-u-s-elections-a-public-good/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-voter-turnout-at-u-s-elections-a-public-good http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/high-voter-turnout-at-u-s-elections-a-public-good/#respond Tue, 08 Nov 2016 20:17:48 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147684 Long lines were reported throughout the country on Tuesday as U.S. voters headed to the polls in one of the most polarised elections in living memory. In one voting location in Cincinnati, Ohio as many as 4000 people stood in a line over half a mile long waiting to vote, according to Twitter user Saahil Desai. […]

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Signs in East Harlem, New York, an area with a high Hispanic population ask voters not to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Nov 8 2016 (IPS)

Long lines were reported throughout the country on Tuesday as U.S. voters headed to the polls in one of the most polarised elections in living memory.

Inline image 1In one voting location in Cincinnati, Ohio as many as 4000 people stood in a line over half a mile long waiting to vote, according to Twitter user Saahil Desai.

High voter turnout should be considered as a public good, Massimo Tommasoli Permanent Observer for International  Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) to the UN told IPS.

“In general, it is a public good to have a high level of participation because normally this is something that reflects higher levels of inclusion, it addresses typical exclusion, segmentation of a country,” although he noted that it is not always a priority for politicians who would rather focus on inspiring their own supporters to vote.

The closeness of the 2016 US Presidential election has sparked questions about electoral integrity and voter participation.

One way that electoral integrity can be assured is through international observation.

The 2016 US Presidential election is being observed by an international Election Observation Mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

“In general, it is a public good to have a high level of participation because normally this is something that reflects higher levels of inclusion" -- Massimo Tommasoli.

However, although the U.S. government invited the international observation mission, 13 U.S. states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia — explicitly forbid international observers.

One of these states, North Carolina – a so-called “swing state”, has been the subject of particular scrutiny in the days leading up to the election.

On Thursday 11 November, a federal judge issued a restraining order to stop state and county election boards in North Carolina from “mass purging” voters from its electoral rolls.

The mass purging had begun after electoral boards began illegally removing voters from the roll after a single letter from their home address was returned to sender.

The court challenge was bought by the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which said that: “en masse voter challenges in Beaufort County have disproportionately targeted African American voters, who comprise only 25.9 percent of the Beaufort County population, but account for more than 65 percent (91 of 138) of the challenges.”

“The NAACP is defending rights of all North Carolinians to participate in this election and we will not back down and allow this suppression to continue,” said the Reverend William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP in a statement.

Considering that the U.S. Presidential election between Republican George Bush and Democrat Al Gore in the year 2000 was decided by a margin of only 537 votes in Bush’s favour in the State of Florida, even small changes in state election rules and regulations could potentially have a significant impact.

Another way that participation in US elections is limited is through voter ID laws.

“The issue of ID requirements is a highly political issue in the U.S.,” noted Tommasoli. The requirements are considered to “disenfranchise voters especially the poor or minorities that do not have … access to ID.”

Stricter voter ID laws are usually favoured by Republicans or conservatives, he said, noting that other elements of a working electoral system include voter registration and voter education.

Motivating young voters to vote for the first time is extremely important as this may determine their voting patterns for the rest of their lives:

“If you do not vote when you reach voting age it is highly unlikely that you will vote (later).”

Overall, Tommasoli said that “voter turnout in the U.S. is traditionally very low compared to other countries” but that Tuesday may bring a higher turnout than usual due to the polarisation of the election.

The United States Election Project predicted Monday that 135 million people would vote in the 2016 election, higher than the 2008 election when President Barack Obama was first elected.

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Wonder Woman: Not the Hero the UN Needshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/wonder-woman-not-the-hero-the-un-needs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wonder-woman-not-the-hero-the-un-needs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/wonder-woman-not-the-hero-the-un-needs/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2016 17:53:55 +0000 Sanam Naraghi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147604 Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is Co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

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Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is Co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini
WASHINGTON DC, Nov 2 2016 (IPS)

For those of us who ever feel conflicted about the United Nations, the past month has been an exercise in managing absurd cognitive dissonance. First, on October 21 2016, the United Nations announced that the 1940s comic book heroine, Wonder Woman would be its new mascot for promoting the empowerment of women and girls.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

The news naturally sent serious women around the world into a collective swirl, and then a reach for their golden lassoes, to capture the attention of an institution that seems perpetually tone deaf on the issue of basic equality and respect for half the world’s population. It also prompted female staff at the UN to protest in silence, through literally turning their backs on the occasion.

Then, on October 25th the UN Security Council held its annual open debate on the groundbreaking ‘Women, peace and security agenda’, now in its 16th year of existence – still full of promise, and yet barely realized. So what’s going on?

The story so far:
In the age of Trumpism, just weeks after women’s rights activists globally were disappointed to learn that a woman was not selected to head the UN, hard on the heels of a year when the outgoing UN Secretary General appointed men to 96% of the senior jobs in the system, some folks at the UN thought having Wonder Woman as the icon for gender equality for the global organization was a good idea. Not so much.

Here are a few reasons why not:
First off, the UN is a post-war institution, dedicated to ending the scourge of war and, by extension, violence. It is an institution founded on diplomacy and the principle of negotiating differences, not vilification and use of force. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was a product of the World War II propaganda of superheroes that fight ‘evil’, using violence in the name of ‘good’.

Throughout history and geography, whenever women have mobilized around their shared identity as women, to fight for self-determination or against oppression, they have not used violence. Today, from Afghanistan to the DRC, from Syria to Colombia, despite all the risks and violence they face, the most courageous women are leading non-violent struggles. Many are mediating between armed actors, hiding and saving men and boys at risk of being recruited and killed, feeding and caring for kids, the sick and the injured. They use their brains, hearts and imagination not brute force.

This is where resolution 1325 on women, peace and security ‘kicks’ in. In 2000, after a mass global campaign, the UN Security Council acknowledged women’s peace activism and call for the inclusion of women at the tables where power is brokered.

The agenda has expanded over the years, and these days world leaders talk about ‘women at the peace table’ as if it is an obvious fact, even though it is still not the norm. The agenda has also become warped. In some countries – the ‘peace’ part has gotten lost in a haze of talk about women as soldiers.

Elsewhere, people think it is yet another instrument to promote equality in security institutions and in times of war. But if 1325 is limited to an ‘equality agenda’ we end up with women having equal rights and responsibilities as men in the current status quo.
That was never the intent of the original 1325-ers.

We did not fight for women’s equal rights to fight, die and kill alongside men. We fought so that neither women nor men had to live through the horrors of war. We fought so that women peacemakers could have equal space with the militias and politicians at the tables where the future of peace and security in their countries is determined.

We fought to end the wars that exist, and to prevent future wars. 9/11 changed the course of history, but the spirit and vision of 1325 shouldn’t get lost in the fog of perpetual war and hyper militarization.

So the choice of Wonder Woman kicking, punching and lassoing her opponents is downright offensive and simplistic.

Herein lies the irony: just ten days ago, Marvel comics unveiled a new digital comic with Syrian mothers as the story’s heroines. So we are living in an age where institutions dealing in fiction recognize and revere contemporary facts, but institutions dealing in reality are stuck in an imaginary past.

Second, if we need a mythical figure, how about Shehrzad of the 1001 Nights? She used her words, wit and imagination to save the lives of women and turn a despotic king into a compassionate wise ruler. She is recognized across many countries and cultures – still relevant across time, and far more representative of an iconic and emancipated woman than Wonder Woman. Or, as one long-time UN staffer suggested, if its fictional figures, why not Pippi Longstocking? She was strong, creative, and definitely no pin-up girl.

Third, why choose from fictional figures, when we have so very many real historic super heroes? Take the oft-forgotten Bertha Von Suttner. She was a formidable figure in early 20th century Europe. She was a renowned leader of the pacifist movement, and most importantly – the inspiration for the Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was influenced by her thinking and actions. It’s time to revive and revere her memory as much as she deserves.

Others have already commented on the sartorial faux pas of selecting Wonder Woman. But there is a political and security dimension to this choice. Women are already fighting the backlash of conservative forces that believe their struggle for rights or voice in political spaces is a ‘western agenda’ designed to undermine their power structures.

Having a female figure in a low-cut bustier/corset covered in the American flag is just adding ammunition. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the kitsch Lynda Carter TV shows and comic books too. But Wonder Woman is clearly the figment of some 1940s male comic strip illustrator’s imagination.

If the purpose is to demonstrate women’s empowerment, how about reflecting the members of the very real Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL)? They live lives of extraordinary courage, vehemently rejecting weapons and arms and dedicating their lives to promoting rights, peace and pluralism, often in the face of extreme violence.

Here are just a few of the members: Fatima Al-Behadili of Iraq, who is deradicalizing young men and sending them back to school or getting them involved in social service. Visaka Dharmadasa of Sri Lanka who lost her son in the war against the Tamil tigers – but mobilized a group of mothers of missing servicemen to walk, unarmed into the jungle and meet the guerrillas face to face and open a back channel for peace talks. Hamsatu Alamin of Nigeria, who reaches into communities affiliated to Boko Haram and helps to reduce the stigma they experience, and get their kids into schools.

So to the UN Department of Comics (?): please get back to the drawing board or move over and let real women handle the situation.

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The Key Role Women Played in Culture of Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-key-role-women-played-in-culture-of-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-key-role-women-played-in-culture-of-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-key-role-women-played-in-culture-of-peace/#respond Tue, 01 Nov 2016 16:31:54 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147593 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, Internationally Recognized Initiator of the UNSCR 1325 as the President of the UN Security Council in March 2000

[On the occasion of the 16th anniversary of unanimous adoption of groundbreaking UNSCR 1325 on 31 October 2000, IPS has the pleasure of publishing the Foreword which Ambassador Chowdhury wrote last year for the book “Openings for Peace – UNSCR 1325, women and security in India”, edited by Asha Hans and Swarna Rajagopalan and published by Sage Publications. The contents remain equally relevant on the 16th anniversary as well.]

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Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, Internationally Recognized Initiator of the UNSCR 1325 as the President of the UN Security Council in March 2000

[On the occasion of the 16th anniversary of unanimous adoption of groundbreaking UNSCR 1325 on 31 October 2000, IPS has the pleasure of publishing the Foreword which Ambassador Chowdhury wrote last year for the book “Openings for Peace – UNSCR 1325, women and security in India”, edited by Asha Hans and Swarna Rajagopalan and published by Sage Publications. The contents remain equally relevant on the 16th anniversary as well.]

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

In the fifteen years since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, we have seen a tremendous enthusiasm among civil society at all levels in raising awareness, engaging in advocacy and building capacity for its meaningful implementation. It is my pleasure to write the foreword to this publication which is a meaningful endeavour to move the agenda forward on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the adoption of this groundbreaking resolution.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

All of us need to remember that adoption of 1325 has opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women. To trace back, 15 years ago, on the International Women’s Day in 2000, I had the honor of issuing on behalf of the United Nations Security Council in my capacity as its President a statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognized, underutilized and undervalued contribution women have always been making towards the prevention of wars, peacebuilding and engaging individuals, communities and societies to live in harmony. All fifteen members of the Security Council recognized in that statement that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making levels. That is when the seed for Resolution 1325 on women and peace & security was sown. The formal resolution followed this conceptual and political breakthrough on 31 October of the same year giving this issue the long overdue attention and recognition that it deserved.

My own experience particularly during last quarter century has made it clear that the participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding assures that their experiences, priorities, and solutions contribute to longer-term stability and inclusive governance. I have seen time and again how women – even the humblest and the weakest – have contributed to building the culture of peace in their personal lives, in their families, in their communities and in their nations.

The contribution and involvement of women in the eternal quest for peace is an inherent reality. Women are the real agents of change in refashioning peace structures ensuring greater sustainability.

In choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.” The 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.”

The main inspiration behind 1325 is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. Research and case studies consistently suggest that peace agreements and post-conflict rebuilding have a much higher chance of long-term success when women are involved. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making and in the peace-keeping teams to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace.

The driving force behind 1325 is “participation” in which women can contribute to decision-making and ultimately help shape societies where violence in general, more so against women is not the norm. 1325 marked the first time that such a proposition was recognized as an objective of the UN Security Council.

“Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from the political sphere …” This is unfortunate and unacceptable. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and consequently on the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.

When women have been included in peace negotiations, they often have brought the views of women to the discussions by ensuring that peace accords address demands for gender equality, human rights, good governance, rule of law in new constitutional, judicial and electoral structures. We would not have to be worrying about countering extremism if women have equality in decision- making enabling them to take measures which would prevent such extremism. Ensuring equality and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness in international relations is essential to weed out roots of extremism.

I recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s words saying “Too often the great decisions are originated and given shape in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression.” It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world.

Unfortunately the challenges to women’s rights and their equality not only continue, but those also mutate and reappear, undermining any hard-earned progress – of course in the process, those become more and more complex, complicated and more difficult to overcome.

The ever-increasing militarism and militarization have made the situation even worse. The global patriarchy’s encouragement to the voluminous arms trade has made it easier for extremists of all kinds in obtaining the arms to impose on others their extremist world views. Ending the arms trade and serious steps toward disarmament should be part of the prescription for reducing and eliminating extremism and all militarized violence.

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. The slogan of the Global Campaign on Women, Peace and Security which we launched in London in June 2014 reiterates “If we are serious about peace, we must take women seriously”. Of course, achieving real gender equality requires “transformative change.” In this conceptual reorientation, the politics of gender relations and restructuring of institutions, rather than simply equality in access to resources and options, should become the priority.

Fifteen years after the adoption of 1325, the governments are still trying to get their acts together on its effective implementation by preparing respective National Action Plan (NAP) as called for by the Security Council. Civil society, on its part, should systematically monitor and evaluate its implementation to hold all sides accountable. Also, countries should work towards the elimination of violence against women and ensure that victims have full access to justice and that there is no impunity for perpetrators. Some countries boast that they do not need a national plan as their countries are not in conflict. To that I say emphatically that no country can claim to be not in conflict where women’s rights are not ensured. Very relevant in this context is the civil society initiative to prepare a people’s action plan as cogently articulated by Betty Reardon in her persuasive contribution in this publication.

In general, National Action Plans should be designed to coordinate and strengthen the implementation of 1325. They should contain a catalogue of measures, clear targets and benchmarks for full and meaningful implementation. The creation of an action plan provides an opportunity to initiate strategic actions, identify priorities and resources, and determine the responsibilities and timeframes. The whole process of developing a plan is also a process of awareness-raising and capacity-building in order to overcome gaps and challenges to the full implementation of 1325.

In real terms, NAP is the engine that would speed up the implementation of Resolution 1325. So far, only 48* out of 193 UN member-states have prepared their plans – what a dismal record after 15 years. There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable. There has to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs – for example, setting a target of 100 NAPs by 2017.

In case of India, for both the government and civil society, preparation of its National Action Plan is particularly important. NGOs should persistently continue to pressure and demand that the government develops the country’s National Action Plan for the implementation of 1325.

At the global level, the UN Secretary-General needs to take the lead in setting up six-monthly inclusive consultative process for 1325 implementation with the civil society organizations at all levels for all relevant UN entities. Also, all relevant NGOs are to be mobilized at country level by the 1325 national coordination body supported by the UN Resident Coordinator.

Again, to recall my message in 2011, I welcomed the focus of Sansristi’s workshop “on the significance of and need for human-centred approach to security. Security can no longer be understood in purely military terms or in terms of state security. Rather, it must encompass economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. To attain the goals of human security, the most essential element is the protection and empowerment of people. As 1325 deals with peace & security with special attention to the half of the global population, it is crucially important that the human security concept becomes the key to the resolution’s implementation at the national, regional and global levels.”

The existing international policies and practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements, is disappointing. We need to realize that the world is secure when we focus on ensuring human security with a feminist perspective and full and equal participation of women at all decision-making levels, in all spheres of human activity and at all times.

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. As we look ahead, what is called for is an ever-growing global movement involving more and more women and, of course, men.

This publication is a concrete and determined step towards the objective of contributing meaningfully to the emerging global movement for women’s equality and empowerment. It reflects our common eagerness, energy and enthusiasm to move forward. With wonderfully articulated presentations skillfully authored by experts from various background and experiences and brilliantly put together with accomplished editing by Asha Hans and Swarna Rajagopalan, the book deserves wide-ranging attention and global readership.

* Today the total stands at only 63

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How Latin American Women Fought for Women’s Rights in the UN Charterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/how-latin-american-women-fought-for-womens-rights-in-the-un-charter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-latin-american-women-fought-for-womens-rights-in-the-un-charter http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/how-latin-american-women-fought-for-womens-rights-in-the-un-charter/#respond Thu, 15 Sep 2016 18:41:24 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146944 It was little-known Brazilian delegate Bertha Lutz who led a band of female delegates responsible for inscribing the equal rights of women and men in the UN Charter at the San Francisco Conference on International Organisation in 1945. “The mantle is falling off the shoulders of the Anglo-Saxons and…we [Latin American Women] shall have to do […]

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Bertha Lutz at the San Francisco Conference, in 1945. UN Photo/Rosenberg.

By Phoebe Braithwaite
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2016 (IPS)

It was little-known Brazilian delegate Bertha Lutz who led a band of female delegates responsible for inscribing the equal rights of women and men in the UN Charter at the San Francisco Conference on International Organisation in 1945.

“The mantle is falling off the shoulders of the Anglo-Saxons and…we [Latin American Women] shall have to do the next stage of battle for women,” Lutz wrote in her memoir, recalling the conference.

Researchers Elise Luhr Dietrichson and Fatima Sator of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) presented this forgotten history at a recent news conference at the United Nations, wishing to publicise the true history of women’s rights in the UN Charter.

“It’s not only about representing historical facts. It’s political; it’s about how history is presented,” Luhr Dietrichson told IPS. There is, she says, little recognition of the role of nations in the global south in establishing “global norms”.

“The mantle is falling off the shoulders of the Anglo-Saxons and we Latin American Women shall have to do the next stage of battle for women,” -- Bertha Lutz.

Contrary to popular assumption, women’s rights in the charter were not achieved by Eleanor Roosevelt – this was not an American, nor a British, stipulation. It was, instead, a Latin American insistence: Lutz along with Minerva Bernadino from the Dominican Republic, and the Uruguayan Senator Isabel P. de Vidal, who insisted on the specific mention of “the equal rights of men and women” at the charter’s opening.

Lutz and those behind her were acting at a time when only 30 of the 50 countries represented at the conference had national voting rights for women. Thanks to their spirited determination, alongside support from participants in Mexico, Venezuela and Australia, she was successful in her demand to have women explicitly mentioned in Article 8, which states that men and women can participate equally in the UN system.

Australian representative Jessie Street “was very vocal, saying: ‘you need to state women specifically in the charter, or else they won’t have the same rights as men; you see this time and time again…’” explains Luhr Dietrichson. Among others in their number, Street’s and Lutz’s feminism enabled them to foresee that the rights of women would be sidelined if they were not explicitly accounted for – that it was not enough simply to enshrine the “rights of man,” as had been argued.

Lutz’ arguments were met with opposition from British and American representatives. Recalling the 1945 conference that brought the United Nations into being, Lutz described the American delegate Virginia Gildersleeve saying “she hoped I was not going to ask for anything for women in the charter since that would be a very vulgar thing to do,” trying to pre-empt any action in the name of women.

Gildersleeve rewrote a draft of the charter, omitting the specific mention of women. In the end, however, alongside Lutz and Bernadino, Gildersleeve and Wu Yi-fang, the Chinese delegate, did sign it as a whole. They were the only four women out of 850 total delegates to sign the seminal document.

A British representative, Labour Parliamentary secretary Ellen Wilkinson, assured Lutz that equality had already been achieved, saying that she had achieved a position on the King’s Privy Council. Lutz disagreed: “’I’m afraid not,’ I had to tell her, ‘it only means that you have arrived”. Such a discourse mirrors contemporary debate born out of Cheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which celebrates individuals’ ambition and success, rather than taking a more global perspective on the systemic injustices women face.

“They were actively engaged in not fighting for gender equality… This is something that goes against everything we have been taught: that the West has been teaching us about feminism. But on this matter, on the charter, they were more than opposed,” Sator, who is from Algeria, told IPS.

“Again, it goes against everything we have been taught that the global south also has visionary ideas,” Sator said. “We only want these Latin American women to be acknowledged as much as we acknowledge Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Though Roosevelt was not involved in the creation of the charter, she became head of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1946 and was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Yet Western countries – including the United States, the United Kingdom and France – later worked to undermine that same declaration in the early 1950s.

As with the history of women’s rights in the UN charter, the role of countries of the global south in creating and protecting the human rights charter has been underestimated.

“It was very clear that Bertha Lutz and Minerva Bernadino they saw themselves as representing “backwards countries” – this was something they said themselves,” Luhr Dietrichson recounts. “They were so critical that these women from more [economically] advanced countries didn’t recognise where their own rights had come from.”

Speaking at the conference, Brazilian Ambassador Antonio Patriota conveyed that Lutz and this story are not at all well known even in Brazil, and welcomed this effort to share the history more widely. At the conference, Luhr Dietrichson emphasised that a sense of “ownership” can lend legitimacy, enabling the engagement and involvement of future generations.

This research is part of a wider effort to “rediscover the radical origins of the United Nations,” Professor Dan Plesch, Director at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, told IPS. It forms part of a wider academic project, UN History for the Future, which seeks to re-contextualise the UN, created not as “some liberal accessory” but “out of hard, realistic political necessity,” Plesch argues.

At a time when there have been widespread calls not only for a woman to finally lead the United Nations, but for a self-described feminist to be seen in the role, Sator and Luhr Dietrichson’s research is a reminder that we still have a long way to go in fulfilling the charter’s vision of equality.

Still, as Plesch asked, “if it had not been for Bertha Lutz and the work of the enlightened dictator (Getúlio Vargas) of Brazil at the time, where would gender equality be now?”

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Female Political Leaders like Hillary Clinton Still Extremely Rarehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/female-political-leaders-like-hillary-clinton-still-extremely-rare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-political-leaders-like-hillary-clinton-still-extremely-rare http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/female-political-leaders-like-hillary-clinton-still-extremely-rare/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 03:55:11 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146782 Despite their prominence on the world stage, female political leaders like Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel are part of a tiny minority of women who have risen to the top of politics. Women “who achieve the highest office are highly visible and extremely impressive (but) they’re still extremely rare,” Anne Marie Goetz, Professor at the […]

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Hillary Clinton at the United Nations, March 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

Despite their prominence on the world stage, female political leaders like Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel are part of a tiny minority of women who have risen to the top of politics.

Women “who achieve the highest office are highly visible and extremely impressive (but) they’re still extremely rare,” Anne Marie Goetz, Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University told IPS.

The recent impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Roussef has bought the number of female heads of state and government globally back down to just 16 in the world’s almost 200 countries.

That number may go back up again in 2017, should Hillary Clinton be elected as the 45th President of the United States.

“Any woman who reaches these positions has tried harder and been judged more harshly than any man,” -- Anne Marie Goetz

Other prominent female political leaders include Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia and Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom yet overall the world is still a long way off achieving gender balance in politics, a target which UN member states agreed to in 1995.

“Five percent women heads of government, seven percent women heads of state, 22 percent women in parliament – this is far too few,” Gabriella Borovsky, Political Participation Policy Specialist at UN Women told IPS.

“At the current rate it will take about another 50 years to achieve gender balance in parliaments.”

Even those female leaders who do rise to the top of politics continue to face significant challenges.

“Any woman who reaches these positions has tried harder and been judged more harshly than any man,” said Goetz, giving the example of Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who she says was subjected to “quite shocking sexist interpretations.”

“It wasn’t about her ideology, it was about her gender, and I fear that this is going to happen to Hillary Clinton as well, and that it’s happening now.”

While the UN advocates for its members to seek gender equality in politics, another position that has yet to be held by a woman is the role of UN Secretary-General.

For the first time ever, several female candidates are in consideration to replace currently Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the beginning of 2017.

“The prospect of a female feminist UN Secretary-General and female feminist United States President is inspiring and exciting beyond belief,” said Goetz.

However, although the female candidates are considered highly qualified, informal straw polls have indicated that the 15-member UN Security Council is likely to select a male candidate.

“We are disappointed that women are not doing better,” Jean Krasno, Chair of the Campaign to elect a Woman UN Secretary-General told IPS.

However the results are perhaps unsurprising given that only one of the fifteen Security Council ambassadors is a woman, said Krasno.

“(The council) is still entrenched in this really old boys club … and we hope that in the 21st century we’re moving away from that,” she said.

Despite the poor straw poll results, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women has reiterated the importance of a female Secretary-General describing it as an opportunity for the UN to lead by example and “make this moment count for gender equality.”

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Time for a Woman to Lead the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/#respond Wed, 17 Aug 2016 02:25:11 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146579 Judging by the latest polls it now seems more likely that the United States will have a female President in 2016, than the United Nations will have a female Secretary-General. Despite widespread support for the next UN Secretary-General to be a woman, female candidates have not fared as well as men in the first two so-called […]

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Candidates for Secretary-General debate in the UN General Assembly hall. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

Judging by the latest polls it now seems more likely that the United States will have a female President in 2016, than the United Nations will have a female Secretary-General.

Despite widespread support for the next UN Secretary-General to be a woman, female candidates have not fared as well as men in the first two so-called straw polls of UN Security Council members.

However the campaign received a small boost from UN Secretary -General Ban Ki-Moon this week when he told an Associated Press Journalist in California it is “high time” for a woman to hold his job.

Unfortunately Ban’s support may come too late for the five female candidates who remain in the race.

By custom, the 15 members of the Security Council select their preferred candidate, with the five permanent members China, France, Russia the United Kingdom and the United States yielding the additional power to veto candidates they dislike.

The most recent straw poll confirmed that former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres is easily the most popular candidate, with 11 Security Council members encouraging him to continue his campaign.

Of the top four candidates, the only woman is Susana Malcorra, the current Foreign Minister of Argentina and former Chef de Cabinet to the Executive Office at the United Nations, with eight encourages and 6 discourages.

“The straw polls continue to reflect the deep seated male bias embedded in the UN and its member states, in spite of their claims to work for gender equality and women's empowerment." -- Charlotte Bunch.

It is difficult to tell exactly which candidate will prevail, since the leaked results of the straw polls do not specify who voted for who. Even Guterres’ seemingly safe position could be undermined if one or both of the two discourages he received were from veto-wielding permanent members.

Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director and Senior Scholar at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University told IPS that she welcomed Ban’s comments “as it is definitely past time when the UN should have a woman as Secretary-General.”

“It has been disappointing that after many countries gave lip service to this idea, the votes have not followed their words,” added Bunch, who is also a core committee member of the Campaign to Elect a Woman UN Secretary-General.

“And they cannot say that there are not qualified women available,” she added. “The list of 12 (candidates) included half (6) women – a historic first.”

Five women, and 11 candidates in total, now remain, after Vesna Pusnic of Croatia withdrew when she placed last in the first straw poll.

“Several of these women have served as heads of UN agencies and departments as well as in prominent positions in government, and are clearly as qualified as the men on the list,” said Bunch.

They include Irina Bokova, of Bulgaria who is currently Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme alongside Malcorra. Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, who led the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to the successful adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, is also one of the candidates.

“The straw polls continue to reflect the deep seated male bias embedded in the UN and its member states, in spite of their claims to work for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said Bunch.

Jessica Neuwirth, Director of Donor Direct Action and founder of Equality Now, which first launched a campaign for election of a woman Secretary-General in 1996 told IPS that she “couldn’t agree more” with Ban’s comments.

“Women make up more than half the world’s population and should be represented equally at all levels of the UN.”

Men have now led the UN for over 70 years, with women’s leadership only made incremental gains, despite decades of campaigning to increase gender equality at the higher levels.

“In Beijing in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference in Women governments undertook to ensure the inclusion of women at the highest levels of decision-making in the UN secretariat,” said Neuwirth.

“More than 20 years later we are still waiting for implementation of this commitment,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”

Neuwirth also expressed disappointment that women hadn’t fared better in the straw polls.

“As a group they did better in the public debates than they did in the straw polls,” she said.

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