Inter Press Service » Women in Politics http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Black Women in the Americas Launch Decade of Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:03:04 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141353 Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

They say they are tired of waiting for justice after centuries of neglect and contempt due to the color of their skin. Black women leaders from 22 countries of the Americas have decided to create a political platform that set a 10-year target for empowering women of African descent and overcoming discrimination.

“We’re going to fight with all of our strength to break the chains of racism and racially-motivated violence,” Shary García from Colombia told IPS at the end of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas, which drew 270 delegates to Managua Jun. 26-28.

García said the three days of debates in the Nicaraguan capital gave rise to the Political Declaration of Managua, whose 17 demands and central themes are aimed at eradicating discrimination based on a combination of racial and gender reasons in the Americas.

“It wasn’t easy to sum up in 17 ideas the complaints and demands of 270 women and their families, who have experienced discrimination, violence and the denial of their rights all their lives. But each and every one of us who came here knows that this is how the beginning of the end of discrimination starts.”

Altagracia Balcácer from the Dominican Republic told IPS that the 17 main themes are cross-cut by concepts like fighting racism, demanding a decent life and anti-poverty policies, demanding the right to make decisions about the future, and freedom of choice regarding sexual and reproductive rights.

“The demands include halting violence towards black women, giving the population of African descent visibility in the national statistics and census, protecting black children and adolescents, and offering opportunities to youngsters in this population group,” she said.

Other concerns, she said, are “protecting the environment, expanding access to natural and economic resources, and guaranteeing food security and sovereignty.”

In addition, the delegates called for “protection and decent treatment of immigrants, salvaging and acknowledging our cultural heritage, respect from the media, the non-stigmatisation of black people, expanding access to justice and guaranteeing safety for women and their communities.”

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS that the document does not demand the recognition of rights, but the enforcement of all treaties, laws and international conventions referring to black women that have been signed since the 2001 World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa.

The Political Declaration of Managua “is not an expression of good intentions; it is an official document demanding the implementation of public policies in all countries of the Americas…to start once and for all to recognise and give their rightful place to the black populations on the continent,” said Wilson, from Nicaragua.

“With this platform, our aim is to move towards compliance with all of our rights in the context of the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent,” added the head of the Managua-based RMAAD, which is active in 24 countries.

In January the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, to promote respect for their rights and freedoms and greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and cultures.

According to the U.N., some 200 million people in the Americas identify themselves as being of African descent.

Wilson explained that over the next decade, black women in Latin America will document, with clear, reliable indicators, the real situation of people of African descent. They also hope to see poverty levels drop.

“We say ‘reliable’ because we don’t exist in the existing statistics, we’re invisible,” said Wilson. “Another of the summit’s achievements is that in each country in the Americas we will set up an observatory to follow up on the demands set forth here.”

To that end, they have technical and institutional support from U.N. agencies, European donor countries, non-governmental organisations, and defenders of human rights and gender rights.

They will also try to get their list of demands accepted by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The idea, said Wilson, is to press countries to design public policies targeting women and people of African descent, and to create follow-up mechanisms to make it possible to gauge the progress made by the time the next summit is held five years from now.

The head of RMAAD said the women who took part in the summit made it clear that there is a perception that police brutality and violence in general against black people are on the rise, especially in the United States and Brazil, two of the countries that were represented in the summit.

“Hate crimes in the United States make the international headlines,” Wilson said. “But because the population of African descent is invisible in Latin America, racially-motivated killings in the region do not come to public attention.”

As a panelist in the forum on human rights, Nilza Iriaci said that “in my country, Brazil, hate crimes happen every day, but there is no sense of scandal.” Brazil is the Latin American country with the largest black population.

A 2010 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Afrodescendant Population of Latin America”, which was updated two years later, found that despite the creation of new legal frameworks and institutions to protect the rights of people of African descent in the region, most of the black population lived in poverty and suffered from discrimination.

Vicenta Camusso, a representative of black women in Uruguay, said things had not changed since the study was carried out. “It’s the same as always – our rights and the poverty we suffer have not improved one bit,” she told IPS.

She said that although every country in the region has legal frameworks protecting the rights of women and blacks, no specific budget funds are allotted.

“Partly because of this, most black women continue to live in inferior living conditions compared to women of other races, and young black people experience the same exclusion and violence as the older generations did,” she said.

“Since Durban, little to nothing has changed for women of African descent in the Americas,” 7she complained. “More than 80 percent of black people in the region live in a state of poverty and social inequality, with few opportunities for improvement, because of ethnic-racial reasons.”

Camusso pointed out that the 2001 global conference emerged from official efforts by the international community to design actions aimed at fighting racism, racial discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and associated violence.

In the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community, U.N. agencies, development aid institutions, private organisations and society in general pledged “to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women’s Groups Say Gender Equality is a Must for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:41:30 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141290 By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of negotiations on the political declaration for the United Nations Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Women’s Major Group (WMG) calls on governments to define a transformative agenda to ensure just, sustainable and rights-based development.

The goal of the event “No Sustainable Development Without Equality”, held on Tuesday, was to launch 10 Red Flags reflecting concern about gender equality and human rights and highlighting the areas that need to be strengthened to achieve a truly transformative agenda.

“Gender equality and human rights are cross-cutting priorities but they have never received enough recognition,” said Eleanor Blomstrom, WMG Organising Partner and Program Director of Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

“If we want the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be successful, these issues must be fully recognised as critical priorities,” she added.

Women and girls comprise the majority of people living in poverty, experience persistent and multidimensional inequalities, and bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of financial and environmental crisis, natural disasters and climate change.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), girls account for the majority of children not attending school; almost two-thirds of women in the developing world work in the informal sector or as unpaid workers in the home. Despite greater parliamentary participation, women are still out numbered four-to-one in legislatures around the world.

Gender equality and the full realisation of the human rights of girls and women of all ages are cross-cutting issues themselves but they’re also essential for poverty eradication and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Nurgul Djanaeva, WMG Organizing Partner and President of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, stressed the importance of keeping the private and public sector accountable, especially on gender equality, in order to achieve gender equality and sustainable development.

“There must be regional, national and global reviews and constant data collection and analysis. Likewise, all the results need to be measured,” she said.

“Transparent and inclusive processes, as well as effective monitoring and evaluative mechanisms, are a must here. A lack of accountability tools is considered as a violation of human rights”, she added.

Speakers at the event also put special emphasis on the key role played by feminist organisations at both the grassroots and international levels, as well as the urgent need for international cooperation and public-private partnerships to achieve gender equality and therefore sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sex Workers in Nicaragua Break the Silence and Gain Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights/#comments Sat, 13 Jun 2015 01:28:26 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141117 María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network, participating in a workshop on the Regulation of Sex Work in this Central American nation. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network, participating in a workshop on the Regulation of Sex Work in this Central American nation. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 13 2015 (IPS)

After living in the shadows, thousands of Nicaraguan sex workers have broken their silence, won support from state institutions and gained new respect for their rights.

María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network (TraSex), explained to IPS that after 15 years of quietly organising, women who provide sexual services for money have managed to become “judicial facilitators” – a kind of conflict resolution mediator – in the Supreme Court and Health Ministry promoters of sexual and reproductive health.

They have also been incorporated into the Defensoría de Derechos Humanos or ombudsman’s office, and they now have a special prosecutor protecting their rights.

In addition, they were recently invited to receive training in political rights and to work as temporary employees for the Supreme Electoral Council in the 2016 general elections.

“This invitation to receive training on electoral matters empowers us to defend our rights vis-à-vis political parties and candidates,” Dávila told IPS.

TraSex represents Nicaragua in the Latin American and Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network, also made up of organisations from Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

The Nicaraguan branch of the network was founded in Managua in November 2007 with the support of local non-governmental organisations and social assistance funds from aid agencies.

The seed of the organisation was the Sunflowers Sex Workers Association, which initially brought together 125 women who starting in 1997 went to informal trainings and lectures on health and sex education.

In 2009 the government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) signed an agreement for cooperation and assistance with the organisation, which began to gain visibility, influence and respect.

The organisation now has a registry of 14,486 sex workers between the ages of 18 and 60, 2,360 of whom have joined the network.

“The other women, the ones outside the network, are still wary of the organisation or are unfamiliar with our aim to provide support,” said Dávila. “But we’re working to train them in defence of their rights as women and sex workers.”

Pajarita from Nandaime (not her real name) is one of the sex workers who reject any kind of organisation among her colleagues.

“I take care of myself and I don’t trust groups or associations,” the 27-year-old told IPS. “Those women get involved in that for money, to get dollars, and then they forget about you. This life has taught me that among prostitutes there is no friendship, only competition.”

She arranges daytime appointments over the phone, working in Managua motels, and is studying tourism in the evenings. On the weekends she goes back to Nandaime, her hometown in the eastern department (province) of Granada, 67 km from the capital.

Sex workers in Nicaragua taking part in activities to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, like this health fair organised by the Nicaraguan AIDS Commission. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

Sex workers in Nicaragua taking part in activities to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, like this health fair organised by the Nicaraguan AIDS Commission. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

But the organisation is making headway in public institutions. The national legislature is now an ally, listening to their input when designing laws that relate to labour and social conditions of sex workers.

Carlos Emilio López, a national lawmaker who is vice president of the legislative Commission on Women, Children, Youth and Family Affairs, is one of the public officials who support the network.

“They are brave women putting up a struggle,” López told IPS. “They have historically been stigmatised and discriminated against, and now they are demanding the attention they have never been given. The state is in their debt, and it’s time they were given something back.”

In April, the vice president of the Supreme Court, magistrate Marvin Aguilar, presided over a ceremony where a pilot group, made up of 18 members of the network, received their credentials as judicial facilitators.

He explained at the time that the women were given technical and legal training to help manage conflicts through dialogue, as mediators.

“We’re the only country in the world that makes sex workers judicial facilitators,” said Aguilar. “The only country in the world that doesn’t try to arrest them and where their activity isn’t criminalised. We don’t throw them in prison for doing sex work.”

In May, the national police named a special chief to directly address the demands for safety voiced by the TraSex network and issued an institutional guideline for their complaints of domestic abuse and general violence to be addressed with the full force of the Integral Law Against Violence towards Women.

In the past, sex workers constantly complained about abuse of authority, harassment, discrimination and persecution by the police.

Their new relationship with the different branches of government enabled the TraSex network to have a say in the design of Nicaragua’s new Law Against Trafficking in Persons, which went into effect in April.

The original draft of the law linked prostitution and procuring with the crime of trafficking, while stressing that women, including prostitutes, were the main victims.

According to Dávila, associating sex workers with trafficking as both victims and victimisers did them harm. As a result, the network recommended modifying the text, the proposed change was accepted, and the connection between sex work and trafficking was removed from the law.

Reflecting their empowerment in Nicaraguan society, on Jun. 2 the network publicly celebrated for the first time International Sex Workers’ Day, annually acknowledged by sex worker networks and activists across the globe since 1976 in commemoration of a protest by prostitutes a year earlier in Lyon, France against the discrimination and police harassment they suffered.

In 2014, in a public ceremony covered by the media, the network presented the book “Ni putas ni prostitutas, somos trabajadoras sexuales” (Neither whores nor prostitutes, we are sex workers), containing first-hand accounts of four women talking about what it is like to be a sex worker and discussing their hopes for a better life.

In addition, since 2014 sex workers have held a voting seat on the Nicaraguan HIV/AIDS Commission, and have participated, also with both voice and vote, in the national HIV/AIDS coordinating committee, where official institutions, social organisations and international bodies design anti-HIV/AIDS actions.

Despite the progress they celebrate, Dávila acknowledged to IPS that social discrimination is still a problem and that there are “many battles to fight” in this impoverished Central American nation.

One of them is to establish lines of communication with the Education Ministry, to teach sex workers to read and write or help them finish school, and to protect their children from bullying by teachers and students, which is frequent when their mothers’ profession is discovered.

Another battle, said Dávila, is to engage in dialogue with the legal system authorities so the new Family Code, in force since April, is not used by judges to remove the children of sex workers from their mothers because of the work they do.

“Right now we have several cases of mothers who are sex workers, where the authorities want to take their daughters away because someone reported the work they do,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Sri Lankan Women Stymied by Archaic Job Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:40:44 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140833 The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MIRIGAMA, Sri Lanka , May 28 2015 (IPS)

Wathsala Marasinghe, a 33-year-old hailing from the town of Mirigama, just 50 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, once had high hopes that the progressive education and employment policies of this South Asian island nation would work in her favour. Today, she feels differently, believing that “an evil system” has let her down.

As a young girl, she attended one of the best schools in the area and was selected to attend a state university. “I went there with so much hope,” she tells IPS – but apparently with little knowledge of her true job prospects.

"Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market." -- Anushka Wijesinha, a consultant to Sri Lankan government ministries
As an undergraduate she studied Buddhism and her native tongue, Sinhala. Her plan was to secure a government job, possibly in teaching or in the public service, and preferably close to home.

But when it came time to job-hunt, she found herself coming up against one wall after another.

“I kept applying and going for interviews but never got a job except as a secretary at a small factory,” she says.

This post did not come close to her employment aspirations, and she was forced to quit after a month. “The salary was 8,000 rupees (about 59 dollars) – I had to spend half of that on traveling,” she explains. The average monthly income in Sri Lanka is about 300 dollars.

She continued to apply, but each time she found herself sitting among a crowd of applicants that seemed to get younger and younger.

The stark reality of the situation has now become clear to her, and she has given up going for interviews altogether, embarrassed to be in the company of other hopefuls who “look like my daughters.”

Marasinghe’s conundrum is not rare in Sri Lanka, despite the country’s purported efforts to achieve targets on gender equality and visible signs of progress on paper.

In 2012, the Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Sri Lanka 39th out of 135 countries surveyed, an unsurprisingly strong placement given that the country of 20 million people has a female adult literacy rate of 90 percent. This rises to 99 percent for female youth in the 15-24 bracket.

Furthermore, girls outnumber their male counterparts at the secondary level, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum.

However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

Government labour statistics indicate that 64.5 percent of the 8.8 million economically active people in Sri Lanka are men, while just 35.5 percent are women. Of the economically inactive population, just 25.4 percent are men, and 74.6 percent are women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to government data, only 2.9 percent of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2 percent. The national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.

The same government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations.

“The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males,” said the latest labour force survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department.

Experts say there are a multitude of structural and social reasons behind the high rate of female unemployment.

For starters while nearly three in four males enter the job market, it is the reverse for women, with just 35 percent of working-age females actually seeking employment, resulting in a skewed supply chain.

Economist Anushka Wijesinha, who works as a consultant to international organisations, says that women who seek higher education also have higher job aspirations, but the job market has not grown fast enough to cater to such needs.

“Aspirations are shifting away from working in the industrial sector as before – more women are keen to work in services like retail […] but jobs in this sector haven’t grown fast enough to cater to the changing aspirations. So we are seeing ‘queuing’, women waiting for those jobs and not getting them,” he tells IPS.

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, shares that analysis, but believes that female unemployment levels should be adjusted to include the roughly 600,000 Sri Lankan women working overseas, the bulk as domestic workers.

He is also an advocate of placing an economical value on women who are fully occupied with looking after households.

Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9 percent, while the services sector employs around 42 percent of women, while industries employ around 24 percent.

There are other reasons why women stay away from work. Nayana Siriwardena, a 35-year-old mother of two, used to work till she had her first child. After the government-stipulated three months’ maternity leave ran out, she had to return to work.

“What I found problematic was that the workplace could not be flexible enough to address my situation,” she said.

She worked in bookkeeping and tried to impress upon her employers that some of the work could be done from a remote location.

“But they did not understand that, which I found surprising because the company was quite progressive in other areas and also because young mothers are not a rare occurrence in any establishment.”

Wijesinha feels that maternal benefits themselves, which legally must be provided for three months, can act as a deterrent to some companies.

“Maternal benefits have to be paid in full by the employer. This means that employers may be deterred [from] hiring young women, because they know they likely have to pay maternal benefits,” he said.

Sarvananthan says that security for women – at the work place, during the commute, and for their offspring – could play a huge role in changing employment figures.

“In order to boost labour force participation by women, a carrot-and-stick approach could be pursued by the state. Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market,” he argues.

He also believes the government should ink an equal opportunities law that legally undermines discriminatory policies. Currently, the constitution stipulates that no one should be discriminated based on sex, but there is no law that provides for equal pay for the same work.

Having more women in the workplace is not only a current problem but could also be a future crisis, as Sri Lanka’s working population ages. Currently, 17 percent of the population is above the age of 55, while 25 percent is below 15 years, meaning only around 50 percent are believed to be in the working age group.

“Given that women comprise just over half of the population, and our working age population peak is beginning to wane, it is critical that we have maximum participation from women in the workforce,” Wijesinha states.

Many believe a higher portion of women in decision-making positions could right these imbalances.

Women’s political representation remains low, with less than 6.5 percent women in parliament, less than six percent in provincial councils, and fewer than two percent in local government.

As the country moves towards elections, activists and rights groups are calling for a 30 percent quota for women in the 20th amendment to the constitution.

If this goal is realised, it could spell change for people like Marasinghe, who, after a decade of searching for her elusive dream job, has all but given up hope.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Germany’s Asylum Seekers – You Can’t Evict a Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:16:23 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140745 Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, May 21 2015 (IPS)

In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe’s ongoing debate on migration, Germany’s asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: “You Can’t Evict a Movement!”.

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

“We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal,” Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling."In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime. Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom" – Adam Bahar, Sudanese blogger and campaigner for Germany’s refugee movement

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin’s Oranienplatz square, known here as the O’Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

“That was a very sad moment for us,” said Napuli. “Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility,” she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O’Platz “protest camp”, which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a “lager” reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

“When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders,” Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany’s refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other “lagers”, starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany’s enforced residence policy, or “Residenzpflicht”, a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O’Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district’s Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school’s rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan “You can’t evict a movement”, which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  “The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century,” said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

Angela Davis (Flickr)

During her May 2015 visit to Berlin, Angela Davis brought a message of support to members of the German refugee movement outside an occupied school building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

“The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well,” Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement’s magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy “working” schedule.

“There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours,” Ulu told IPS.

“We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest.”

Germany’s problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement’s campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

“In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime,” he said. ”Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media’s often empty slogans of justice and freedom.”

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin’s Humboldt University, “colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry.”

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. “Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation’s wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world.”

Meanwhile, the refugee movement’s unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin’s local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of “immigration” for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in “asylum-worthy” categories. “In Germany there are three categories of refugees,” Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

“The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere.”

“This is unfair,” he said. “Human tragedy should not be classified.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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The U.N. at 70: Time to Prioritise Human Rights for All, for Current and Future Generationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 13:23:26 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140725 Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Seventy years ago, with the founding of the United Nations, all nations reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The commitment to fundamental human rights that was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lives on today in many other treaties and agreements, including the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.There is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

The Programme of Action (PoA) , endorsed by 179 governments, articulated a bold new vision about the relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

And it was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are the foundation for economic and social development.

The PoA is also rooted in principles of human rights and respect for national sovereignty and various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is also based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the number of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Since it began operations 46 years ago, and guided by the PoA since 1994, the United Nations Population Fund has promoted dignity and individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights encompass freedoms and entitlements involving civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to decide the number and spacing of children is integral to reproductive rights and to other basic human rights, including the right to health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to liberty and the security of person.

Reproductive rights rest not only on the recognition of the right of couples and individuals to plan their families, but also on the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

The impact of the PoA has been nothing short of revolutionary for the hundreds of millions of women who have over the past 21 years gained the power and the means to avoid or delay a pregnancy.

The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, have been extraordinary. Millions more women have become empowered to have fewer children and to start their families later in life, giving them the opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and rise out of poverty.

And now there is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

Recent research shows that investments in the human capital of young people, partly by ensuring their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, can help nations with large youth populations realize a demographic dividend.

The dividend can help lift millions of people out of poverty and bolster economic growth and national development. If sub-Saharan Africa realized a demographic dividend on a scale realized by East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, the region could experience an economic miracle of its own.

The principles of equality, inalienable rights, and dignity embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Programme of Action are relevant today, as the international community prepares to launch a 15-year global sustainable development initiative that builds on and advances the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close later this year.

The new Post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Agenda is founded on principles of equality, rights and dignity.

Upholding these principles and achieving each of the proposed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals require upholding reproductive rights and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Achieving the proposed goal to ensure healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, for example, depends in part on whether individuals have the power and the means to prevent unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.

Human rights have guided the United Nations along the path to sustainability since the Organisation’s inception in 1945. Rights, including reproductive rights, have guided UNFPA along that same path for decades.

As we observe the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and look forward to the post-2015 development agenda, we must prioritise the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity for every person, for current and future generations, to create the future we want.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America’s Social Policies Have Given Women a Boosthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 23:41:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140512 The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Although they do not specifically target women, social policies like family allowances and pensions have improved the lives of women in Latin America, the region that has made the biggest strides so far this century in terms of gender equality, although there is still a long way to go.

Luiza Carvalho of Brazil, U.N. Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, said that can be seen in each report by her agency.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress,” Carvalho said in an interview with IPS during the global conference “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015”, held in the Argentine capital from Wednesday May 6 to Friday May 8.

The advances made in Latin America, Carvalho said, “were not so much a result of economic policies; on the contrary, they were the result of social policies, which although not necessarily specifically aimed at women, ended up benefiting them a great deal, directly and indirectly.”“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality. -- Luiza Carvalho

Latin America’s successful cash transfer programmes include Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance, Ecuador’s Human Development Bonus and Mexico’s Prospera.

Other measures that have had a positive impact were the improvement of the minimum wage, which did not include a gender perspective but benefited women, who are disproportionately paid low wages. That bolstered their purchasing power and as a result their decision-making capacity and “their control over some domestic matters,” Carvalho said.

The same was true of initiatives aimed at protecting informal sector workers, and the creation of non-contributory pensions, among which Carvalho mentioned those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.

As a result of the various cash transfer programmes, “there is no doubt that extreme poverty was reduced throughout Latin America,” she said. “With improved buying power, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of non-contributory pensions there was also a significant modification in gender inequality.”

But she argued that these programmes have a handicap: they put an emphasis on the responsibility of women as mothers.

“The conditions set are for women,” she said. “Women have to help children stay in school, women have to get their children vaccinated. And those conditions do not reinforce a more responsible role for men in child-rearing.”

“If we want to go beyond these achievements, policies should be focalised,” said Jessica Faieta, the U.N. Development Programme’s regional director, referring to what she called “second-generation social policies.”

“These should be policies directly targeting the inclusion of women in development gains, which have not reached everyone,” Faieta told IPS.

She said women – especially rural, indigenous and black women – stood out among the “excluded groups”.

Faieta stressed that inclusion of women has a positive impact on poverty eradication.

For her part, Carvalho described it as a “virtuous circle” of development.

Faieta said: “It has been proven that including women brings broader returns. Employing more women and paying them more equal wages has benefits that go beyond women, to their families.”

“Latin America understands that clearly. So much that we are seeing the expansion of these programmes in Africa and their introduction in Asia, which are replicating Latin America’s positive experiences,” said Carvalho. To shore up that process, the UNDP and Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) are currently working on systematising the regional initiatives.

“There is a very significant possibility of South-South cooperation,” Faieta said.

Prominent participants at the opening day of the global conference in Buenos Aires included U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark of New Zealand.

The meeting organised by the UNDP, U.N. Women and the Argentine government drew delegates from different regions, to reflect on persistent and new challenges facing girls and women living in poverty around the world, 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Among the challenges seen at a regional level, Carvalho mentioned the still-high maternal mortality rates, violence against women, and its most serious expression: femicide or misogynist or gender-related murders.

“Of the 28 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are in our region,” she pointed out.

She attributed that phenomenon to “the failure of governments to respond with prevention measures, an entrenched ‘machista’ culture, a view of women as property or as part of a man’s private collection, and legal questions that block women’s access to land or credit.”

“Economic empowerment of women” is another pending challenge in Latin America, Faieta said. Despite the advances made in the region, “women still suffer the most from unemployment. And women are still paid less for the same work,” she pointed out.

Nevertheless, the report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”, launched Apr. 27 by U.N. Women, reflects the progress made, stating that between 1990 and 2013, the biggest increase in women’s participation in the labour market occurred in Latin America.

During that period, their participation rose from 40 to 54 percent – although it remained far below men’s participation, which stood at 80 percent.

With respect to the persistent gender pay gap: the report adds that while women earn on average 24 percent less than men globally, in Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is 19 percent.

And in all Latin American countries that carry out time use surveys, women dedicate two to five times as much time as men to unremunerated work.

Other achievements were the political inclusion of women, in the region with the largest number of female heads of state and government.

Eleven countries passed laws establishing quotas for women’s political participation; 26.4 percent of lawmakers are women; and on average 22.4 percent of government ministers are women – the highest proportion of all regions, although still not high enough for an inclusive democracy, Faieta said.

“It is clear that conditional cash transfers won’t fix everything,” Carvalho clarified. “For that reason other policies must also be implemented.”

That includes specific gender policies as well as macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies.

Carvalho criticised cuts in social programmes “that affect society as a whole but especially women because they undermine education and health policies, and others that increase their domestic burden.”

“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality,” she said.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Argentina’s minister of social development, Alicia Kirchner, during the conference opening ceremony.

Clark, the UNDP chief, said that in the global Post-2015 development agenda, to be defined in December, it is essential to guarantee that all policies contain a gender perspective.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Sri Lanka’s Development Goals Fall Short on Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 Ranjit Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140471 In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

By Ranjit Perera
COLOMBO, May 5 2015 (IPS)

When Rosy Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s minister of state for child affairs, addressed the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York last month, she articulated both the successes and shortcomings of gender equality in a country which prided itself electing the world’s first female head of government: Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960.

After surviving a 26-year-long separatist war, which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been registering relatively strong economic growth, and also claiming successes in its battle against poverty and hunger."Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce.” -- Rosy Senanayake

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) move towards their targeted deadline in December 2015, Sri Lanka says it has reduced poverty from 26.1 percent in 1990-1991 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013 – achieving the target of cutting back extreme poverty by 50 percent far ahead of end 2015.

Still, it still lags behind in gender equality – even as 51.8 percent of the country’s total population (of 21.8 million) are women, with only 34 percent comprising its labour force.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant progress in its social and economic indicators, Senanayake told IPS, it is also one of the few countries in Asia that has a sex ratio favourable to women.

But Sri Lanka’s advancement, in light of changing demographics, will ultimately depend on its ability to enable women and young people to be active participants in the country’s post-2015 development agenda and the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This requires an increase in sustained investment targeted at gender equality and social protection,” she added.

Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the women of Sri Lanka for playing a critical role in helping the needy and the displaced.

“They’re encouraging people to build secure and prosperous neighbourhoods. They are supporting ex-combatants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and they’re providing counseling and other social services. And these efforts are absolutely vital and we should all support them,” he said.

“But we also have to do more than that,” he noted.

“Here, as in every country, it’s crystal clear that for any society to thrive, women have to be in full control – they have to be full participants in the economics and in the political life. There is no excuse in the 21st century for discrimination or violence against women. Not now, and not ever,” Kerry added.

The country’s positive development goals are many and varied: Sri Lanka has almost achieved universal primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1, who reach grade 5, is nearly 100 percent; the unemployment rate has declined to less than four percent: the maternal mortality rate has declined from 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 33.3 in 2010; and the literacy rate of 15- to 25-year-olds increased from 92.7 percent in 1996 to 97.8 percent in 2012, according to official figures released by the government.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Colombo Subinay Nandy says since the end of the separatist war, “Sri Lanka has graduated from lower to middle income status.”

Still, despite strong health and education results, Sri Lanka struggles to provide gender equality in employment and political representation.

Referring to the MDG country report produced by the government, Nandy says, Sri Lanka, overall, is in a strong position. The good performance noted in the report has been sustained and Sri Lanka has already achieved many of the MDGs and is mostly on track to achieve the others, he said.

But the negatives are also many and varied.

The proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament “remains very low”; the number of HIV/AIDS cases, despite low prevalence, is gradually increasing; tuberculosis remains a public health problem; there has been an increase in the incidence of dengue fever; and Sri Lanka’s debt-services-to-exports ratio remains relatively high compared to other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eight MDGs spelled out by the United Nations include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

The targeted date to achieve these goals is 2015.

Senanayake told the CPD unemployment amongst women is more than twice as high as unemployment amongst men, while women migrant workers and women in the plantation and export processing sectors bring in significant foreign exchange earnings to the country.

However, a majority of women who participate in the labour force do so in the informal sector.

“This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during their course of employment. Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce,” she said.

Sri Lanka recognises that inclusive development rests on ensuring equality of opportunity in work.

“As such, we are firmly committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalised sectors,” she noted.

These investments demand a broader discussion on the value of female participation in development.

This includes the availability and promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights; robust mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girls; and strengthening measures to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

These, she said, are critical in ensuring Sri Lanka’s ‘demographic dividend’ can be leveraged.

Meanwhile, the introduction of family planning services by the Family Planning Association was well integrated into maternal and child health services and later expanded to reduce the stigma surrounding contraception.

This strategy accounted for more than 80 percent decline in fertility, according to Senanayake.

Additionally, the government of Sri Lanka, through her Ministry, has introduced a scheme that provides a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women in the country to reduce rates of anaemia, low birth weight and malnutrition – which affects both mother and baby.

Still, Sri Lanka faces the problem of unsafe abortions, unintended and teenage pregnancies, which pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of women and adolescents.

In this respect, she said, strengthening comprehensive reproductive education through school curriculum can help young people access accurate information on gender, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and increase their awareness on the effective use of contraception.

Currently over 23.4 percent households are headed by women.

To combat these demographic pressures, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has set up a National Committee on Female-Headed Households and a National Centre for Female Headed Households – enabling female heads of households to integrate into the workforce and access sustainable livelihoods.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Continuing the Centennial Work of Women and Citizen Diplomacy in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-continuing-the-centennial-work-of-women-and-citizen-diplomacy-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-continuing-the-centennial-work-of-women-and-citizen-diplomacy-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-continuing-the-centennial-work-of-women-and-citizen-diplomacy-in-korea/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:14:00 +0000 Christine Ahn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140374

Christine Ahn is the International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a campaign of 30 international women walking for peace and reunification of Korea in May 2015.

By Christine Ahn
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

A century ago, the suffragist Jane Addams boarded a ship with other American women peace activists to participate in a Congress of Women in The Hague.

Christine Ahn

Christine Ahn

Over 1,300 women from 12 countries, “cutting across national enmities,” met to call for an end to World War I. That Congress became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which is now gathering in The Hague under the theme Women Stop War.

Just as Addams met women across national lines to try and stop WWI 100 years ago, from May 19 to 25, a delegation of 30 women from 15 countries around the world will meet and walk with Korean women, north and south, to call for an end to the Korean War.

As WWII came to a close, Korea, which had been colonised by Japan for 35 years, faced a new tragedy. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the United States proposed (and the Soviets accepted) temporarily dividing Korea along the 38th parallel in an effort to prevent Soviet troops, who were fighting the Japanese in the north, from occupying the whole country.

Japanese troops north of the line would surrender to the Soviets; those to the south would surrender to U.S. authorities. It was meant to be a temporary division, but Washington and Moscow failed to establish a single Korean government, thereby creating two separate states in 1948: the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north.We are walking on May 24, International Women’s Day for Disarmament and Peace, because we believe that there must be an end to the Korean War that has plagued the Korean peninsula with intense militarisation.

This division precipitated the Korean War (1950-53), often referred to in the United States as “the forgotten war”, when each side sought to reunite the country by force. Despite enormous destruction and loss of life, neither side prevailed.

In July 1953, fighting was halted when North Korea (representing the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers) and the United States (representing the United Nations Command) signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement at Panmunjom, near the 38th parallel.

This temporary cease-fire stipulated the need for a political settlement among all parties to the war (Article 4 Paragraph 60). It established the Demilitarized Zone, two-and-a-half miles wide and still heavily mined, as the new border between the two sides. It urged the governments to convene a political conference within three months, in order to reach a formal peace settlement.

Over 62 years later, no peace treaty has been agreed, with the continuing fear that fighting could resume at any time. In fact, in 2012, during another military crisis with North Korea, former U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that Washington was, “within an inch of war almost every day.”

In 1994, as President Clinton weighed a pre-emptive military first strike against North Korea’s nuclear reactors, the U.S. Department of Defence estimated that an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula would result in 1.5 million casualties within the first 24 hours and 6 million casualties within the first week.

This assessment predates North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, which would be unimaginable in terms of destruction and devastation. We have no choice but to engage; the cost of not engaging is just too high.

The only way to prevent the outbreak of a catastrophic confrontation, as a 2011 paper from the U.S. Army War College counsels, is to “reach agreement on ending the armistice from the Korean War”—in essence, a peace agreement—and “giv[e] a formal security guarantee to North Korea tied to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Recent history has shown that when standing leaders are at a dangerous impasse, the role of civil society can indeed make a difference in averting war and lessening tensions. In 1994 as President Clinton contemplated military action, without the initial blessing of the White House, former President Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang armed with a CNN camera crew to negotiate the terms of the Agreed Framework with former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.

And in 2008, the New York Philharmonic performed in Pyongyang, which significantly contributed towards warming relations between the United States and DPRK.

Christiane Amanpour, who traveled with CNN to cover the philharmonic, wrote that U.S. Secretary of Defence William Perry, a former negotiator with North Korea, explained to her that this was a magic moment, with different peoples speaking the same language of music.

Armanpour said Perry believed that the event could positively influence the governments reaching a nuclear agreement, “but that mutual distrust and fear can only be overcome by people-to-people diplomacy.”

That is what we are hoping to achieve with the 2015 International Women’s Walk for Peace and Reunification of Korea, citizen-to-citizen diplomacy led by women. We are also walking on the 15th anniversary of the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, and in peacebuilding.

Women from Cambodia, Guatemala, Liberia and Northern Ireland all provided crucial voices for peace as they mobilised across national, ethnic and religious divides and used family and community networks to mitigate violence and heal divisions among their communities.

Similarly, our delegation will walk for peace in Korea and to cross the De-Militarized Zone separating millions of families, reminding the world on the tragic 70th anniversary of Korea’s division by foreign powers that the Korean people are from an ancient culture united by the same food, language, culture, customs, and history.

We are walking on May 24, International Women’s Day for Disarmament and Peace, because we believe that there must be an end to the Korean War that has plagued the Korean peninsula with intense militarisation. Instead of spending billions on preparing for war, governments could instead redirect these critically needed funds for schools, childcare, health, caring for the elderly.

The first step is reconciliation through engagement and dialogue. That is why we are walking. To break the impasse among the warring nations—North Korea, South Korea, and the United States—to come to the peacemaking table to finally end the Korean War.

As Addams boarded the ship to The Hague, she and other women peace activists were mocked for seeking alternative ways than war to resolve international disputes.

Addams dismissed criticism that they were naïve and wild-eyed idealists: “We do not think we can settle the war. We do not think that by raising our hands we can make the armies cease slaughter. We do think it is valuable to state a new point of view. We do think it is fitting that women should meet and take counsel to see what may be done.”

It is only fitting that our women’s peace walk in Korea takes place on this centennial anniversary year of the first international act of defiance of war women ever undertook. I am honoured to be among another generation of women gathering at The Hague to carry on the tradition of women peacemakers engaged in citizen diplomacy to end war.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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No Woman, No Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-woman-no-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-woman-no-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-woman-no-world/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 22:00:12 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140347 By Sean Buchanan
LONDON, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Almost exactly two years ago, on the morning of Apr. 24, over 3,600 workers – 80 percent of them young women between the ages of 18 and 20 – refused to enter the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, because there were large ominous cracks in the walls. They were beaten with sticks and forced to enter.

Forty-five minutes later, the building collapsed, leaving 1,137 dead and over 2,500 injured – most of them women.

The Rana Plaza collapse is just one of a long series of workplace incidents around the world in which women have paid a high toll.

It is also one of the stories featured in the UN Women report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, launched on Apr. 27.

All too often women fail to enjoy their rights because they are forced to fit into a ‘man’s world’, a world in which these rights are not at the heart of economies.
Coming 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, which drew up an agenda to advance gender equality, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 notes that while progress has since been made, “in an era of unprecedented global wealth, millions of women are trapped in low paid, poor quality jobs, denied even basic levels of health care, and water and sanitation.”

At the same time, notes the report, financial globalisation, trade liberalisation, the ongoing privatisation of public services and the ever-expanding role of corporate interests in the development process have shifted power relations in ways that undermine the enjoyment of human rights and the building of sustainable livelihoods.

Against this backdrop, all too often women fail to enjoy their rights because they are forced to fit into a ‘man’s world’, a world in which these rights are not at the heart of economies.

What this means in real terms is that, for example, at global level women are paid on average 24 percent less than men, and for women with children the gaps are even wider. Women are clustered into a limited set of under-valued occupations – such as domestic work – and almost half of them are not entitled to the minimum wage.

Even when women succeed in the workplace, they encounter obstacles not generally faced by their male counterparts. For example, in the European Union, 75 percent of women in management and higher professional positions and 61 percent of women in service sector occupations have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace in their lifetimes.

The report makes the link between economic policy-making and human rights, calling for a far-reaching new policy agenda that can transform economies and make women’s rights a reality by moving forward towards “an economy that truly works for women, for the benefit of all.”

The ultimate aim is to create a virtuous cycle through the generation of decent work and gender-responsive social protection and social services, alongside enabling macroeconomic policies that prioritise investment in human beings and the fulfilment of social objectives.

Today, “our public resources are not flowing in the directions where they are most needed: for example, to provide safe water and sanitation, quality health care, and decent child and elderly care services,” says UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne by women and girls.”

According to Mlambo-Ngcuka, “this is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in when the State does not provide resources and it affects billions of women the world over. We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security and independence,” she added.

The report agrees that paid work can be a foundation for substantive equality for women, but only when it is compatible with women’s and men’s shared responsibility for unpaid care work; when it gives women enough time for leisure and learning; when it provides earnings that are sufficient to maintain an adequate standard of living; and when women are treated with respect and dignity at work.

Yet, this type of employment remains scarce, and economic policies in all regions are struggling to generate enough decent jobs for those who need them. On top of that, the range of opportunities available to women is limited by pervasive gender stereotypes and discriminatory practices within both households and labour markets. As a result, the vast majority of women still work in insecure, informal employment.

The reality is that women also still carry the burden of unpaid work in the home, which has been aggravated in recent years by austerity policies and cut-backs. To build more equitable and sustainable economies which work for both women and men, warns the report, “more of the same will not do.”

At a time when the global community is defining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the post-2015 era, the message from UN Women is that economic and social policies can contribute to the creation of stronger economies, and to more sustainable and more gender-equal societies, provided that they are designed and implemented with women’s rights at their centre.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Peace Is Not a Boy’s Clubhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/peace-is-not-a-boys-club/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-is-not-a-boys-club http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/peace-is-not-a-boys-club/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140330 When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Governments have long pledged to bring more women to the peace table, but for many (if not most), it has been little more than lip service.

In a bid to accelerate this process, the Global Network of Women Peace-builders (GNWP) in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Chile and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations organised an international workshop on Apr. 23 to better integrate the Women, Peace, Security (WPS) U.N. Security Council Resolutions within the security sector.

The seminar focused on recommendations for the implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 at the international, regional and national level, in order to bring more women to the peace tables in conflict areas, and bring their perspectives into post-conflict reconstruction processes.

According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on WPS, a reform of the security sector is needed in order to accomplish these goals.

Speaking from U.N. Headquarters in New York, the International Coordinator of GNWP, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, stressed “the need for a systematic implementation of Resolution 1325 at the international level.”

In the past three years, GNWP has conducted over 50 localisation workshops in 10 countries, in various communities and municipalities, inviting police officers and the military forces to learn about Resolution 1325.

“It is no surprise to us when they come to our localisation workshops that these officers hear about Resolution 1325 for the very first time. However, working only at the local level is hard, because final approvals come from the higher ups, in order to actually get a full reform and training of officers of the security sector,” highlighted Cabrera-Balleza.

The GNWP is not only calling for a global reform of the security sectors and armed forces for the inclusion of women in peace-building, but also for demilitarisation of countries and the elimination of conflicts to achieve peace worldwide.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and member of the High-Level Advisory Group for Global Study on Resolution 1325, who was present at the seminar, underlined the inadequacy of governments and peacekeepers in protecting civilians, and especially women, in recent years.

“(We need) the integration of the culture of peace and non-violence in national and global policies, and education for global citizenship. We need a human security policy, and a more inclusive human way of thinking about our future, where women and men can share equally the construction of a safer and just world,” he said.

One positive example of the inclusion of women during peace negotiations comes from the Philippines.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Philippine Government Peace Panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), explained that after 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine authorities and the MILF, in the last two decades, the government and armed forces have moved toward the “civilianisation” of peace processes.

“More and more women were allowed in, either as members of the bureaucracy or government, or civil society leaders, or academia members, and they have all been sitting at the peace table.”

As Coronel-Ferrel said, women brought a more gender-based response into the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

“Not only because there were more women inside the negotiating tracks, but also women around the panels, who would be lobbying the government but also the counter party, making sure that diverse frameworks would be included in the text.”

In addition, the reform of the security sector in the Philippines created local monitoring teams, where either police officers or lower ranking members of the armed forces worked closely with MILF members, leading to trust building and cooperation for better security on the ground, concluded Coronel-Farrel.

Participating in the event were also officers from police and military forces from Argentina, Australia, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Nepal, countries which are implementing reforms within their security sectors at the local, regional and national level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Still Struggling to Gain Equal Foothold in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 17:31:28 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140071 A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Kali Sunar, 25, a resident of the Dumpada village in the remote Humla District in Far-West Nepal, lives a life that mirrors millions of her contemporaries.

From the minute she rises early in the morning until she finally rests her head at night, this rural woman’s chief concern is how to meet her family’s basic, daily needs.

"Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference." -- Usha Kala Rai, a leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist)
Her small plot of arable land scarcely produces enough food to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. With few other options open to them, her husband and her brother travel to neighbouring India to work as labourers, like scores of others in this landlocked country of 27.5 million people.

“The money they send is not enough because more than half of it is spent on their travel back and forth,” Sunar tells IPS. “If only I could get some kind of work, it would be a huge relief.”

Roughly 23 million people, accounting for 85 percent of Nepal’s population, live in rural areas. Some 7.4 million of them are women of reproductive age. Many are uneducated – the female literacy rate is 57.4 percent, compared to 75 percent for men – and while this represents progress, experts say that until women in Nepal gain equal footing with their male counterparts, the lives of women like Sunar will remain stuck in a rut.

Nepal has signed a string of international treaties that promise gender parity – but many of these pledges have remained confined to the paper on which they were written.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nepal ratified in 1991, specifies for instance that states parties must take all necessary steps to prevent the exclusion of, or violence towards, women; sadly, this has not been a reality.

According to the Kathmandu-based Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon, an initiative to provide support to victims of abuse, gender-based violence is the leading cause of death among Nepali women aged 19 to 44 years – more than war, cancer or car accidents.

The organisation further estimates: “22 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15; 43 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; [and] between 5,000 and 12,000 girls and women are trafficked every year.”

Some 75 percent of these girls are under 18; the majority of them are sold into forced prostitution.

Rights activists say that the country also routinely flouts its commitment to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, in legal matters, and in numerous other civic, economic and social spheres.

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Not only international treaties but domestic mechanisms, too, have failed to pull the brakes on sex discrimination and gender-based inequities.

A 2007 Interim Constitution, designed to ease Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic, made provisions for women – as well as for other marginalised groups like Dalits (lower caste communities) Adivasis (indigenous and tribal groups), Madhesis (residents of the southern plains) and poor farmers and labourers – to be active political participants based on the principle of proportional inclusive representation.

These were all steps in the right direction, bolstered by the 2008 election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), which saw women occupying 33 percent of all seats in the 601-member parliament.

However, that number fell to 30 percent in the second election, held in 2013, the first after the CA failed to draft a new constitution. With only 11.53 percent of women in the cabinet, experts say there is an urgent need to increase the number of women at the decision-making level.

According to a monitoring report by the non-governmental organisation Saathi, which tracked progress on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) relating to women, peace and security, women’s participation in Nepal’s judiciary stands at an average of 2.3 percent, with 5.6 percent of women in the Supreme Court, 3.7 percent in the appellate courts, none in the special courts and 0.89 in the district courts.

Women’s representation in security agencies is even more worrisome, according to a 2012 study entitled ‘Changes in Nepalese Civil Services after the Adoption of Inclusive Policy and Reform Measures’: there are only 1.6 percent women in Nepal’s army, 3.7 percent in the armed police force and 5.7 percent in the regular police force.

Dismal numbers of female civil servants across a broad spectrum of service groups also spell trouble: women account for just 9.3 percent of civil servants in the education sector, 4.4 percent in the economic planning and statistics division, 4.9 percent in agricultural affairs, 2.2 percent in engineering and two percent in forestry.

Only in the health sector do women come anywhere close to their male counterparts, with 4,887 out of 13,936 positions, roughly 36 percent, occupied by women.

Still, even this number is low, considering the health indicators for women that could be improved by boosting women’s representation at higher levels of politics and government: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nepal has a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births. Only 15 percent of Nepali women have access to healthcare facilities.

Data from Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that only 19.71 percent of all families exercise female ownership of land or housing, another reason why women continue to languish on the lowest rung of the social ladder with little ability to exercise their own independence.

Although Nepal’s female labour force participation rate is higher than many of its South Asian neighbours – 80 percent, compared to 36 percent in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India, 32 percent in Sri Lanka and 24 percent in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Oragnisation (ILO) – working women are burdened by social attitudes, which dictate that women undertake domestic labour as well as their other jobs.

“This makes it difficult for women to perform [in their chosen field] and have an impact,” explains Mahalaxmi Aryal, a member of the CA from the Nepali Congress.

Usha Kala Rai, a prominent women’s rights activist and politician, admits that the country has many legal grounds on which to address women’s issues, but says they are seldom utilised to their best effect.

“We completely lack the political will and the commitment to implement these legal provisions,” says Rai, a former member of the Constituent Assembly and leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist).

She calls for increased numbers of women in decision-making roles, but acknowledges that those who make it to the top generally come from the elite class, with the added privilege of having received a good education – thus they are not necessarily representative of women across the socio-economic spectrum.

She tells IPS she favours a system of proportional representation for all state bodies on the basis of the female share of Nepal’s population – 52 percent.

“Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference,” she explains, citing the creation of the 2008 Women’s Caucus, comprised of all 197 women in the Constituent Assembly representing every major political party, to stand together for women’s rights irrespective of ideology.

However, pressure from male leaders meant that the second Constituent Assembly was unable to revive the Caucus, with the result that women no longer have a unified platform on which to voice their collective demands.

“Women politicians have been handpicked by their parties under the proportional representation (PR) [system], which makes them vulnerable to partisan politics,” political science professor Mukta Singh Lama tells IPS.

Until such a system is replaced with one that prioritises genuine inclusion of women at every level of the state, experts fear that Nepal’s women will not have an equal hand in the shaping of this country.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Threats to Afghan Women Rights Defenders Being Met with Blind Eyehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 05:02:48 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140059 By Sean Buchanan
KABUL, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Women human rights defenders in Afghanistan face mounting violence but are being abandoned by their own government – and the international community is doing far too little to ease their plight – despite the significant gains they have fought to achieve, says Amnesty International in a new report released Apr. 7.

The report titled ‘Their Lives On The Line’ documents how champions for the rights of women and girls, including doctors, teachers, lawyers, police and journalists as well as activists, have been targeted not just by the Taliban but by warlords and government officials as well.

Rights defenders have suffered car bombings, grenade attacks on homes, killing of family members and targeted assassinations. Many continue their work despite suffering multiple attacks, in the full knowledge that no action will be taken against the perpetrators.

“Women human rights defenders from all walks of life have fought bravely for some significant gains over the past 14 years – many have even paid with their lives. It’s outrageous that Afghan authorities are leaving them to fend for themselves, with their situation more dangerous than ever,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, in Kabul to launch the report.

“With the troop withdrawal nearly complete, too many in the international community seem happy to sweep Afghanistan under the carpet. We cannot simply abandon this country and those who put their lives on the line for human rights, including women’s rights.”

There has been significant international investment to support Afghan women, including efforts to strengthen women’s rights, but too much of it has been piecemeal and ad hoc and much of the aid money is drying up, says Amnesty International.

While Taliban are responsible for the majority of attacks against women defenders, government officials or powerful local commanders with the authorities’ backing are increasingly implicated in violence and threats against women.

As one woman defender explained: “The threats now come from all sides: it’s difficult to identify the enemies. They could be family, security agencies, Taliban, politicians.”

Based on interviews with more than 50 women defenders and their family members across the country, Amnesty International found a consistent pattern of authorities ignoring or refusing to take threats against women seriously.

No woman in public life is safe – those facing threats and violence range from rights activists, politicians, lawyers, journalists, teachers. Even women in the police force are under threat, where sexual harassment and bullying is rife and almost always goes unpunished.

Despite the existence of a legal framework to protect women in Afghanistan – much of it thanks to tireless campaigning by women’s rights activists themselves – laws are often badly enforced and remain mere paper promises. The landmark Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law, passed in 2009, remains unevenly enforced and has only led to a limited number of convictions.

“The Afghan government is turning a blind eye to the very real threat women human rights defenders are facing. These brave people – many of them simply doing their jobs – are the bulwark against the oppression and violence that is part of daily life for millions of women across the country. The government must ensure they are protected, not ignored,” said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Researcher.

“Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future, and is at arguably the most critical moment in its recent history. Now is not the time for international governments to walk away,” said Salil Shetty. “The international community must step up with continued engagement and the Afghan government cannot continue to ignore its human rights obligations.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Appointing a New U.N. Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-appointing-a-new-u-n-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-appointing-a-new-u-n-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-appointing-a-new-u-n-secretary-general/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:12:20 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139881

Dr. Palitha Kohona is the former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and onetime Chief of the U.N. Treaty Section

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
NEW YORK, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

With Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term of office tapering off by the end of 2016, there is increasing chatter in the corridors of the United Nations on his successor.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The interest in the top post at the U.N. has been heightened because of the issues that have emerged.

Among them: the importance of respecting the principle of regional rotation; the need to have a woman occupy the top job at the U.N. after 70 years of its existence; and the importance of more transparency in an organisation that devotes much energy to promote democracy in the world.

These are prominent among some of the conversation starters in the U.N. cocktail circuit, all against the background clamour to reform the Organisation.

The Charter itself says little on the appointment process. Article 97 stipulates that the General Assembly (GA) will appoint a secretary-general (SG) on the recommendation of the Security Council. As with much else at the U.N., the practice with regard to the appointment of the SG also has evolved in response to contemporary pressures. Resolutions 11/1 of 1946 and 54/246 of 1997 are important on this matter.

The Security Council will, in the first instance, seek consensus prior to recommending a candidate to the GA, although 9 votes in favour of a candidate in the Council would suffice.

If consensus is not feasible, the Council will vote on the candidates available. The practice of conducting straw polls among the members of the SC has become popular in recent times.While early aspirants to the post did not campaign under spurious pretexts, the need to approach a wide range of countries to seek their blessings is increasingly recognised.

To the disappointment of many members of the world body, the recommendation is adopted at a private meeting in accordance with Rule 48 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure.

The Permanent Five of the SC (P5) – namely Britain, the U.S. France Russia and China — exercises inordinate power over the selection process. Today the endorsement of the P5 is essential and consequently the veto acquires a particular significance in the SC recommendation.

In 1996, the significance of P5 endorsement was clearly highlighted. As the Council began its consideration of potential candidates, Boutros Boutros Ghali, the incumbent SG, received 14 endorsements in a straw poll, except the U.S.

Boutros Ghali had offended the U.S. with comments on the situation in the Middle East. A week later, a former senior U.N. official, Kofi Annan, a surprise candidate from the Secretariat, received the necessary endorsement of the SC with the backing of the P5.

Similarly, former Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s efforts to secure a third term in1981 were vetoed by the Chinese. It is now almost mandatory for the aspirants to the post of SG to undertake visits to the capitals of the P5 to seek their blessings and not say or do anything that would cause them alarm.

This was not always the case. When, in 1951,Trygve Lie of Norway was vetoed by the Soviet Union, as he sought his second term, the U.S. had him appointed through a clear majority of votes in the GA. Given the difficulties that Trygve Lie faced subsequently, especially in dealing with a hostile Soviet Union, it would be unlikely that such an approach would be adopted today.

Although there are suggestions that the SC should recommend more than one candidate, for the sake of transparency and to facilitate democratic choice, the GA has decided in Res 11 of 1946 that it would be desirable for the Council to proffer only one candidate.

Whether this sentiment continues to be shared by many in the GA today with its much wider membership is unclear. While a divisive vote in the GA is always possible, in recent times, the GA has tended to rubber stamp the recommendations of the SC.

While early aspirants to the post did not campaign under spurious pretexts, the need to approach a wide range of countries to seek their blessings is increasingly recognised. Visits to capitals could generate a groundswell of sympathy for a candidate which could influence members of the SC.

The present incumbent, a former Foreign Minister of South Korea, advancing his candidature the first time round, used his position as his country’s representative in the SC to visit as many capitals as possible.

The second time round, he was advised to seek the endorsement of the regional groups as he was mulling presenting his candidature, in particular, the Asia Pacific Group, his own regional group.

This was against the background of some whispered reservations about his performance in the first term, especially by certain countries of the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG).

They were mostly concerns about his perceived lack of fluency in the working languages of the Organisation and the absence of firmness in dealing with difficult issues.

Still, the Asia Pacific Group endorsed him unequivocally, setting in motion a tide of endorsements from the other regional groups. He announced his candidature immediately following his meeting with the Asia Pacific Group.

The WEOGs provided the first two SGs. An assertive developing world demanded the next. U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was appointed, despite initial opposition from France.

The Eastern European Group has asserted a claim to the post after Ban because the group has never had this position before and because there are many suitable candidates from the region.

Res 51/241 supports their position. Among the possible Eastern European aspirants are the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and the Former President of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, the Executive DIrector of UNESCO, Irena Bukova of Bulgaria, EC Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, the vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Monte Negro, Igor Luksic, and the popular Permanent Representative of Romania, Simona Miculescu.

The WEOGs have occupied the post three times – the Asia Pacific twice, Africa twice and Latin America and the Caribbean once. Candidates from the P5s are not considered for the post. Should Eastern Europe come up with a suitable candidate, they are likely to get the post this time.

Given the perceived lack of clarity with regard to the Eastern European candidature, others have begun to test the water.

Among them are, Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia; Helen Clerk, the Administrator of the UNDP and former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and former Prime Minister of Portugal; and Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director of UN Women and current president of Chile.

It is noteworthy that the Non-Aligned Movement, the largest single political grouping of developing nations, has strongly backed the appointment of a woman to succeed Ban.

The general feeling among Member States is that the time for a woman SG has arrived. There does not seem to be a shortage of exceptionally qualified women in the field.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Acting Tough to Earn Respect as Policewomen in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 19:49:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139867 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/feed/ 0 Opinion: Sharing the Vision of a Changed Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:05:59 +0000 Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139849 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

This year has many initiatives taking place in the realm of women’s leadership, but one platform and movement in particular is standing out, and people are noticing. We are the founders of IMPACT Leadership 21, leadership architects for inclusive, high growth economies.

As a global social enterprise, the organisation is committed to inclusive and sustainable leadership at the top level.  This commitment is the driving force behind our core mission:  ACCELERATE women’s leadership at the highest levels of influence in the 21st century.Someone always has to dream.

Following is a conversation about the goals and strategies of IMPACT Leadership 21.

Janet:  Constance and I have a wealth of experience in many sectors.  We have operated in corporate, governmental, non-profit, diplomatic, and entrepreneurial arenas.  We observed that there were gaps across all sectors hindering the pace of advancement.  We developed discussion forums and targeted training modules to address these gaps.

Constance:  We grew tired of the same dialogue and not seeing the needle move very much.  We grew impatient and decided to take action.

Janet:  IMPACT represents the core values and principles required for transformational leadership. I – Innovation, M – Multiculturalism, P – Passion, A – Attunement, C – Collaboration, and T – Tenacity.

Together with our partners, we:

  • Convene catalytic conversations and forums that revolutionise global leadership.
  • Provide tools, resources, opportunities and channels that equip leaders to succeed in a global, hyper-connected world.
  • Inspire emerging global leaders to be catalysts for change.
  • Engage men as powerful ambassadors for change and a gender balanced leadership at the top.

Constance:  We provide discussions forums and trainings to assist companies and individuals.  Through our framework, we help clients identify challenges, then structure actionable step to help them overcome those challenges. Our forums are designed to identify, build, and engage business/social ecosystems that are industry specific to accelerate leadership.  If you want to build strong leadership, we are your architects.

Starting in 2012, IMPACT Leadership 21 has introduced three core programmes:  the Leadership Acceleration Training Program/High IMPACT, the Emerging Global Leaders Program, and Conversations with Men.  The Emerging Global Leaders Program was taught at Columbia University (School of International Public Affairs and Teachers College) and as an academy at the United Nations.

Conversations with Men was a featured content segment at the 2014 California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, CA and the 2014 GOLD Symposium in Tokyo.

Janet:  I created these programmes to address a need seen worldwide.  Conversations with Men has a very special place.  Women’s initiatives make the mistake of not including men in the acceleration of women’s leadership.  The men hold the majority of the cards; you need dialogue to have people understand the importance of gender parity.

Constance:  If you examine any great movement in history, you’ll see that the success comes from the efforts of those immediately affected, partnering with those bystanders that are sympathetic to the cause.  I mentioned this in 2012.  We launched our first Conversations with Men in April 2013.  We held it at the United Nations in February 2014.  After that, others started developing like minded initiatives, such as He for She and Lean In Together.  Many dismissed us at first, but history leaves clues to success.  It’s hard to dispute the history. We’ve pioneered this level of forum and training for the 21st century.

A movement and platform cannot go far without support, and this couple has some remarkable people in their corner.

Janet:  We are very humbled to have such incredible pillars to our success, very high profile champions and supporters that have really rolled up their sleeves to help us.

Our foremost driving force since the beginning is Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury (Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and popularly known as the “Father of 1325”, the U.N. Security Council resolution which focused on women, peace and security).

Ambassador Chowdhury’s tireless, hands-on  commitment and advocacy on ensuring equal participation of women at all levels of leadership continues to inspire the work we do as we accelerate women’s global leadership at the top.  It is because of this relentless spirit of championing women’s equality as a man, that we honored Ambassador Chowdhury with the first IMPACT Leadership 21 Frederick Douglass Award in 2013.

Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo (Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat), Ambassador Edita Hrda (Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to U.N.) and Michaela Walsh (Founding President, Women’s World Banking) have also been in our corner from the beginning, and continue to be guide and support us. Leslie Grossman, Founder of Women’s Leadership Exchange, emphatically joined us immediately after our first event and now serves as vice chair of our Global Advisory Council.

Constance:  They are our “salmon swimming upstream”.  Unheard of for most other fish, but second nature to the salmon.  They are our mentors and guides as we challenge the status quo, as we challenge the ways it’s always been done, challenge the seemingly impossible.  We’ve caught the vision of a changed world, now we are helping others see it. Someone always has to dream.

You can meet the leadership architects of IMPACT on Mar. 25, 2015 at the United Nations, convening their pioneering programme, Power of Collaboration, now in its second year.  For more information please visit impactleadership21.com or email communications@impactleadership21.com 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: ‘We Owe It to More Than Half of the Global Population to Do a Better Job’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 12:29:10 +0000 Josephine Ojiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139802 Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

By Josephine Ojiambo
LONDON, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Undoubtedly, we are at a crucial time in the advancement of gender equality.

As we move towards consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must ensure the rights of women and girls are firmly embedded in the post-2015 development framework.It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

Twenty years ago, leaders and global activists met in Beijing and created what was the most progressive roadmap to champion the rights of women – the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark declaration, we must also caution against complacency as countries renew efforts to remove barriers that block women’s full and equal participation in all sectors of society.

An issue of serious concern remains the under-representation of women in politics. Until women are adequately represented at the highest level of policy making and decision making, we cannot hope to achieve the development aspirations of half the population.

We must accelerate efforts to reach the internationally agreed targets of 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making roles.

The Commonwealth has made significant progress towards increasing women’s political participation. Out of 43 countries globally that have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent target, more than a third are Commonwealth countries.

We have seen the introduction of important measures to redress the lack of women in political leadership, such as quotas and national gender policies.

In India and Bangladesh, for example, constitutional amendments to reserve one-third of all local government seats for women have led to the election of over one million women.

These achievements are good but not good enough. Women continue to be marginalised, oppressed, and subjected to violence and cruelty – female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, trafficking, slavery and sexual violence.

A culture of impunity prevails when it comes to prosecuting and preventing such violations. Under these current conditions, is it any wonder that only 22 out of 193 countries have a woman as head of state or government?

I recall my own formative political experience in Kenya: my mother became the country’s first female cabinet minister in the early seventies, and remains a formidable politician even today. I witnessed the hardships she endured to rise through the ranks, and the adversity she faced when in office, as well as her successes and achievement.

I too had a similar experience when I joined the oldest political party in Kenya, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), as a volunteer and youth activist.

Over a period of 24 years, I rose through the ranks as a professional volunteer. This role granted me presence and agency; it ushered me forward to eventually be voted in as the first female secretary-general of the party.

It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

I learned many lessons during my experience in grassroots electoral politics – the sharing of good practices, the solidarity of sisterhood within the women’s movement, and the true support of key male champions.

Globally, however, women’s political participation continues to be thwarted by innumerable obstacles. Discrimination against women is rife.

Financial resources available to women to run political campaigns are scant or non-existent. Conflicts between work and family can be overwhelming.

We are all familiar with the tired saying, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’; it is exactly this type of regressive narrative that sets women back. Challenging gender-based stereotypes is still an ongoing, uphill battle.

Therefore, we must find ways to create inclusive and enabling environments where women are able to realise their full political, economic and social potential.

We must turn our attention to paving the way for future generations. Creating pathways that enable more young women to enter the ranks of political leadership is fundamental.

Education is the single most important tool to achieve this. Yet, women and girls continue to be denied the same opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Statistics show, overwhelmingly, that countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Nevertheless, patriarchal systems continue to downgrade the value women offer society as a whole.

Our Commonwealth Charter recognises that: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

To this end, we will work closely with member governments to fulfil international commitments in line with the stand-alone goal agreed at the 58th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Going forward, we seek to increase women’s participation in the political and corporate sectors through electoral and legislative reforms. We continue to push for the elimination of violence against women and girls in all Commonwealth countries.

Advancing women’s economic empowerment is another priority area. It is the social responsibility of governments to improve women’s enterprise and encourage business activity, thereby strengthening women’s economic power – one of the measures of overcoming poverty.

There is much work to be done. We must now deliver on promises to secure women’s equal participation in all echelons of society. We owe it to more than half of the global population to do a better job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sendai Conference Stresses Importance of Women’s Leadershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 19:59:01 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139690 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Jamshed Baruah/IPS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri/IPS

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Women play a critical role in reducing disaster risk and planning and decision-making during and after disasters strike, according to senior United Nations, government and civil society representatives.

In fact, efforts at reducing risks can never be fully effective or sustainable if the needs and voices of women are ignored, they agreed.WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

Even at risk of their own health and well-being, women are most heavily impacted but often overcome immense obstacles to lead response efforts and provide care and support to those hit hard by disasters, said participants in a high-level multi-stakeholder Partnership Dialogue during the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan, from Mar. 14 to 18.

Participants in the conference’s first of several intergovernmental high-level partnership dialogues, on ‘Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction’, included the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In an interview with IPS, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said the Sendai Conference offers “a new opportunity for the world to galvanise around a common disaster risk reduction agenda and commit to collective actions that put women at its centre”.

The fact that serious gaps remain in the area is not for lack of guidance and tools on relevant gender-based approaches and best practices. What is needed is requisite political will to make sure that women’s voices were enhanced and participation ensured. All such efforts must bolster women’s rights, included sexual and reproductive health rights, he said.

Osotimehin pleaded for key actions at all levels, and stressed that dedicated resources are lacking and as such, money must be devoted to disaster risk reduction and women must be empowered to play a real role in that area.

He pointed out that sustained and sustainable disaster risk reduction requires an accountability framework with indicators and targets to measure progress and ensure that national and local actors move towards implementation.

A physician and public health expert, before Osotimehin became UNFPA chief in January 2011 in the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS, which coordinates HIV and AIDS work in a country of about 180 million people.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

As several other speakers and heads of governments also emphasised in several other fora, Cousin said the WCDRR is the first of a crucial series of U.N.-backed conferences and meetings set for 2015 respectively on development financing, sustainable development and climate change, all aimed at ensuring a safer and more prosperous world for all.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed similar sentiments in a keynote address. He said that Japan had long understood the importance of enhancing the voice, visibility and participation of women.

For example, if a disaster struck during the middle of the day, most of the people at home would be women so their perspective is essential “absolutely essential for restoring devastated”.

“’No matter how much the ground shakes, we will remain calm in our hearts,’” said Prime Minister Abe, quoting the powerful words of women in one of the districts he had visited in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and pledging Japan’s ongoing strong commitment to ensuring all women played a greater role in disaster risk reduction.

Abe announced that boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support.

He said: “Today I announced Japan’s new cooperation initiative for disaster risk reduction. Under this initiative, over the next four years, Japan will train 40,000 officials and people in local regions around the world as leaders who will play key roles in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction.

“One of the major projects that will be undertaken through this initiative is the launch of the Training to Promote Leadership by Women in Disaster Risk Reduction. Furthermore, at the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo to be held this summer, one of the themes will be ‘Women and Disaster Risk Reduction’.”

Abe said, “We are launching concrete projects in nations around the world” and would build on existing efforts to promote women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction in such partner countries as Fiji, Solomon Islands, and other Pacific island nations.

“We have dispatched experts in the field of community disaster risk reduction to conduct training focusing on women over a three-year period … Now these women have become leaders and are carrying on their own activities to spread knowledge about disaster risk reduction to other women in their communities,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Four Ways Women Bring Lasting Peace to the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:52:33 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139684 The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

2015 marks anniversaries for two significant commitments made to increasing women’s participation at peace tables.

Yet despite the Beijing Platform for Action and the Security Council Resolution 1325 both committing to increasing women’s participation in peace building 20 and 15 years ago, respectively, there has been very little progress to report.

The latest available statistics show that women made up only 9 per cent of negotiators at peace tables between 1992 and 2011. That the most recent data is from 2011 shows that more work is needed even in basic areas such as data collection and reporting of women’s participation in peace building.

IPS summarises here four reasons we should value women’s participation at the peace table more, based on discussions at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) over the past week.

Beijing Platform for Action Section E

Women and Armed Conflict Diagnosis

Strategic objective E.1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace. Actions to be taken

Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories. Actions to be taken.

  1. Women Bring Commitment and Experience to the Peace Table

Often the first people invited to participate in formal peace negotiations are the people holding the guns and the last are women who have expertise in building lasting peace.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told a CSW side event on Tuesday last week, “In the Central African Republic, the only community where they were not killing each other was a community where the Christian women said, ‘These Muslim women are our sisters.’

“Why? Because the women in the community said, ‘We have lived together for the last 100 years’,” Bangura said.

In the Phillipines, Irene Santiago was a member of the government panel that negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Santiago came to the table with years of experience working with Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women leaders for peace.

Speaking at a CSW side event at the International Peace Institute (IPI) on Thursday, Santiago said that she knew that her years of experience working with civil society for peace stood her in good stead to make a significant contribution to formal peace negotiations, which she did.

Speaking with IPS, Santiago said women’s voices not only have to be heard, but that they also have to be acted on.

“For women. It’s almost never always about themselves, it’s always about our children, our husbands but also about our communities,” Santiago told IPS.

In Africa, women have fought to be included in peacemaking, even when their contributions have not been recognised.

Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security to the African Union, says that mediators need to be held accountable when they only invite the people who hold guns to the peace table and ignore women’s contributions.

“I have been involved in many crises where women were knocking at the door and saying we want to be at the table,” Diop said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, known as the father of Security Council Resolution 1325, said that the determination of African women to be involved in peace negotiations should be seen as an inspiration by other countries.

Despite serious difficulties, war and conflict, African women have shown continued determination to hold their countries accountable, Chowdhury said.

  1. Gender Equality in Peace Time Prevents Conflict

Also speaking at the IPI, Valerie Hudson, co-author of ‘Sex and World Peace’, said that her research has shown that the way women are treated within a country is one of the most accurate indicators of the quality of relations that country will have with other countries.

Diop agreed with Hudson, saying that countries that are likely to fall into conflict have higher levels of discrimination and inequality.

“Discrimination against women, especially the non-participation and non-inclusion of women in democracy is … one of the root causes of the conflict,” Diop said.

Ambassador Choudhury agreed with these sentiments, telling IPS, “I believe that no country can claim that their country is not in conflict if women’s rights are denied, if women’s equality is not ensured, if women’s participation at all participation levels is not there.

“I think that if we women are violated, if women’s equality of participation is not there we cannot say that we are at peace, we are in conflict with ourselves. This is a conflict which is happening within ourselves and within the countries. We don’t have to go into the traditional description of conflict, civil conflict or fighting with another country,” Chowdhury added.

Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute also speaking at the IPI event said, “A world where 51 per cent are ignored is a dangerous world for everyone. I can’t imagine why any men would be indifferent to this.”

  1. Women Are Active In Civil Society

Several discussions at the CSW questioned why militaries were the primary actors in peace building, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society’s expertise was not called on.

Santiago told IPS that civil society, especially women, have a lot to contribute to humanise, to concretise, and to make peace negotiations relevant to people’s lives.

Winnie Kodi from the Nuba mountains in Sudan told reporters on Monday that civil society was vital to helping indigenous communities like her own that have been affected by conflict. She said that the main way her people were able to have their voices heard was by working together with NGOs and civil society.

Chowdhury told IPS he is advocating for the U.N. and governments to hold more consultations with civil society, saying that the involvement of women and of civil society is very important.

Santiago also called for renewed focus on the important role of NGOs in the area of women, peace and security,

“Again I see that why are we focusing on the UN as the locus of change,” she said. “To me it is not, it is the means, it is an important audience, but it is not the locus of social change.

“Let us form the global civic networks that we need to bring about the local global and civil change that we need” Santiago said.

  1. Women Challenge The Causes of Conflict

Challenging militarism and militarisation was another theme discussed during the first week of the CSW, particularly by civil society groups at the parallel NGO forum.

Choudhury told IPS that increased militarism and militarisation is slowing down efforts for equality. “Increasing militarism and militarisation has really been effecting women in a very negative way. This is something that women should stand up against, we should all stand up against,” Chowdhury said.

Militarisation is also affecting indigenous women and men. Maribeth Biano, from the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, told reporters on Monday that Indigenous women are hugely affected by militarisation in Indigenous territories.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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