Inter Press Service » Women in Politics http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 30 Sep 2016 19:22:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 How Latin American Women Fought for Women’s Rights in the UN Charterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/how-latin-american-women-fought-for-womens-rights-in-the-un-charter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-latin-american-women-fought-for-womens-rights-in-the-un-charter http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/how-latin-american-women-fought-for-womens-rights-in-the-un-charter/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 18:41:24 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146944 Bertha Lutz at the San Francisco Conference, in 1945. UN Photo/Rosenberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Female Political Leaders like Hillary Clinton Still Extremely Rarehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/female-political-leaders-like-hillary-clinton-still-extremely-rare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-political-leaders-like-hillary-clinton-still-extremely-rare http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/female-political-leaders-like-hillary-clinton-still-extremely-rare/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 03:55:11 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146782 Hillary Clinton at the United Nations, March 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time for a Woman to Lead the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 02:25:11 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146579 Candidates for Secretary-General debate in the UN General Assembly hall. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sustainable Development in Africa Will Not Be Achieved Without Women’s Full Participationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/sustainable-development-in-africa-will-not-be-achieved-without-womens-full-participation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-development-in-africa-will-not-be-achieved-without-womens-full-participation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/sustainable-development-in-africa-will-not-be-achieved-without-womens-full-participation/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 05:35:16 +0000 Gina Din http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146429 Ms Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communications and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa.]]> Gina Din visits a UNFPA supported maternal and child health facility in Migori County, Kenya. Photo Credit: Gina Din Group

Gina Din visits a UNFPA supported maternal and child health facility in Migori County, Kenya. Photo Credit: Gina Din Group

By Gina Din
MIGORI COUNTY, Kenya, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

In some parts of the world, the proverbial “glass ceiling” is shattering. As Theresa May and, most likely, Hillary Clinton join Angela Merkel at the leadership of three major world powers, women’s leadership in politics is on the ascent.

Unfortunately, improvements in political representation has not been accompanied by improvements in the material conditions of ordinary women’s lives.

As the National Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Kenya, I am well aware of just how far women in Africa still have to go not only in their quest for access to political participation, but also in the fight for the basic rights that will enable them to live healthily and safely. In fact, the advancement of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is key to achieving their full and equal participation in the social, political, and economic realms.

The good news is that this is now a widely accepted truth: the pursuit of gender equality is not just an abstract ideal, but a prerequisite for human progress.

Throughout the world, UNFPA has been working to change the narrative about the role of women. UNFPA’s message has been that the roles that men and women play in society are not biologically determined, but socially constructed. This means that these roles are man-made and can be changed when circumstances call for it.

That is why UNFPA is working to change the circumstances of marginalized and vulnerable women such as the four in every ten women in Kenya who report being physically assaulted by people known to them. There is a need to change the circumstances of the nine in ten women in the north eastern parts of Kenya who undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), almost all of whom have never gone to school.

A lack of education severely restricts a woman’s access to information and opportunities. Conversely, increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment benefits both individuals and future generations. Higher levels of women’s education are strongly associated with lower infant mortality and lower fertility, as well as better outcomes for their children.

There is need to give women power over their own bodies; the power to decide who and when to marry, how many children to give birth to and when to do so, the power to stay in school and the opportunity to find employment. When a woman can effectively plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life. Protecting and promoting her reproductive rights – including the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of her children – is essential to ensuring her freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.

In its effort to change mindsets and include women as equal partners at the social and political table, UNFPA Kenya has become a key voice in the national discourse, engaging people across both the public and private sectors and mobilising for more resources to be invested in broad gender equality programmes.

I particularly enjoy working with the UNFPA team led by Siddharth Chatterjee, an indefatigable advocate for women’s rights. His career with the United Nations, in some of the most unstable and risky parts of the world, has exposed him to the suffering that conflicts and disasters bring to communities, with the worst affected always being women and children.

The UNFPA Kenya team has shown the desire for attaining real impact on the challenges that women encounter in their day-to-day lives and – most importantly – empowering them to handle these difficulties on their own.

For instance, as per a report by Deloitte, UNFPA Kenya’s work in 6 high burden counties of Kenya to improve maternal health is bringing real change. I have been humbled to see women in Pokot organize themselves to build a rescue shelter for girls escaping early marriages. I have been amazed at the tenacity of schoolgirls in Baringo who stood firm and convinced their fathers of the harmful effects of FGM. These powerful success stories come out of the activities of UNFPA Kenya, whose leadership has been determined to succeed even in the face of entrenched cultures that deny women any agency.

The task at hand, then, is not to give women strength, but to give society new eyes to perceive the strength that they already possess in abundance.

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The Next UN Secretary General Should Be a Woman – and Must Be a Feministhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-next-un-secretary-general-should-be-a-woman-and-must-be-a-feminist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-next-un-secretary-general-should-be-a-woman-and-must-be-a-feminist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-next-un-secretary-general-should-be-a-woman-and-must-be-a-feminist/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 21:35:25 +0000 Winnie Byanyima http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146388 Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Winnie Byanyima
Oxford, UNITED KINGDOM, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The process for arguably the top political job on the planet is well underway.  And the time is right for a woman and a feminist to take the helm.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council is continuing its consideration of candidates for the next UN Secretary-General, with the next “straw poll” due to take place on Friday August 5th.

Backed by public debates and online campaigns, this selection process for the Secretary-General has been the most transparent and accessible yet – driven in part by tireless efforts from civil society.

But the decision to appoint essentially rests with the Security Council’s five permanent members in what has been, since 1946, a remarkably secretive selection procedure, one which has given us three Europeans, two Africans, two Asians and one Latin American – all men – in 70 years.

This process has never produced a female secretary general.

In 2006 the Secretary-General selection process included only one woman in seven candidates. This time round, half the current candidates are women. There is no shortage of talent. Yet the initial signs are not promising. The Security Council’s first straw poll on July 21st saw only one woman among the top five.

The absurd male monopoly on the UN’s top job must come to an end. The next Secretary-General must be both a woman and a feminist, with the determination and leadership to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

The long selection process ahead must reverse this. The absurd male monopoly on the UN’s top job must come to an end. The next Secretary-General must be both a woman and a feminist, with the determination and leadership to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Growing up as an activist under an oppressive dictatorship in Uganda, the UN was a friend to those of us who fought our way to freedom, as it was for the millions that joined decolonization struggles in the African continent. Today, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement agreed in 2015 are testament to the UN’s global role and reach, and a legacy of Ban Ki-moon’s outstanding leadership.

Yet the UN is failing to meet its founding tenets to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and uphold human rights for those who are powerless. For the UN’s new leader, reversing this sounds near-impossible amidst protracted conflicts, a lack of respect for international humanitarian law and a massive global displacement crisis.

Fulfilling the pledge to “leave no one behind is perhaps the biggest political challenge. The new Secretary-General must grapple with the spiralling crisis of extreme economic inequality that keeps people poor, undermines economic growth and threatens the health of democracies. And a low carbon pathway will not happen without strong UN leadership to drive drastic reductions from the richest in our societies, whose lifestyles are responsible for the majority of them.

Choosing a woman goes far beyond symbolism and political correctness. The discrimination of women and girls goes to the core of any and all analyses of the world’s economic, political and environmental problems.

A feminist woman Secretary-General will, by definition and action, ensure gender equality is put at the heart of peace, security and development. In doing so, she will truly champion the UN’s core values of human rights, equality and justice.

Such an appointment – far too long in coming – would fulfil promises given by world leaders 21 years ago at the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to nominate more women to senior posts in the UN. In the past decade, women have filled less than a quarter of senior roles at the organization, according to UN Women. Shockingly, as recently as last year women made up less than 17 percent of Under- and Assistant Secretary-General appointments.  

A new feminist UN Secretary General will ensure that more women serve as heads of UN agencies, peacekeeping missions, diplomatic envoys, and senior mediators who collectively can strengthen the global peace and security agenda. Without women’s equal access to positions of decision-making power and a clear process to get there, gender equality, global security and peace will never be realized.

And it will take a woman feminist Secretary-General to advance the bold, comprehensive women’s human rights agenda in intergovernmental fora that is needed to address the multiple and intertwined challenges facing us in the 21st century. Only a woman feminist Secretary-General can ensure financial support reaches women’s rights movements – proven to have made progress on addressing the challenges of violence against women and girls, climate change, conflict and economic inequality. They can ensure that feminist and civil society movements are not just observers in policymaking, but active and equal participants.

She should, too, boost international efforts to empower women economically – thus strengthening national economies and prosperity for all – and tackling the harmful social norms that trap women in poverty and powerlessness.

The new Secretary-General must also reimagine the role of the UN in a world radically different to the one it was set up to serve and be bold in leading its reform.

The UN must be made more inclusive, accountable, democratic, effective, and reflective of a world in which political and economic power has shifted. And the UN must be able to protect its unique role as a genuinely multilateral institution that acts in the interests of all people and all countries. Integrity must not be undermined by the influence of private sector actors and their money.

The Security Council, particularly the five permanent members, must choose change and progress over continuity. They must have the foresight to ensure they listen to the voices of the public and select the Secretary-General that the world and the UN needs today: a woman and a feminist.

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The -Sad- US Nominationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-sad-us-nominations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-sad-us-nominations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-sad-us-nominations/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2016 11:00:13 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146351 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

The US mountain, so rich in human talent, labored and produced the two dwarfs for the huge job. A radical Republican strongman[i] and a conventional Democrat, disliked by 62% and 67%–bad for electing the president of a country that still puts some stamp on the world.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Trump challenged, successfully, the Republican machine. The Democratic machine got a Hillary who challenged absolutely nothing.

In both parties, in the name of unity, a veil was drawn over these basic US conflicts today, not between the parties, but within. Cruz did not give in, Sanders did–maybe bribed by some verbal rephrasing.

So there they are. Trump has his base in the vast WASP, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant middle class middle-aged who used to rule the country [ii], promising to make America–meaning WASP–great again.

Hillary has her base in that other Democratic Party, the Southern Democrats, in older people and the groups traditionally voting Democrat–Blacks, Hispanics, cultural minorities, women and much of labor– greatly aided by that wasp, Trump, stinging all of them.

Younger people may abstain. So may many, even most, in the choice between a less war-and-market Republican and a market-and-war Democrat willing, on sale for more wars.

Add the careers of these big Egos: one a businessman wrecking others, the other wrecking state secrets. “Stop him by all means” and “Lock her up” become mantras heard often. The high dislikes are well rooted. BUT, there is a difference: there is also much enthusiasm for Trump; none, it seems, for Hillary.

The election campaign started long before the nominations were over and the foretaste is bad. One thing is the candidates fighting; another, the burning issues for the USA and the world. They may both be right when certifying that the other is unfit for the presidency.

But that is still personal, ad hominem, cutting huge political cakes along personal lines. How about the issues facing the USA?

Take the issue-complex “speculation-massive inequality-misery”. 1% vs 99%. Traditionally, causes for the Democrats.

Sanders got at it; but his proposals were unclear or missing. Here some policy staples that the Democrats missed: separating investment and savings banking; holding Capital responsible for failures, not drawing upon State = tax-payers’ money; attacking inequality by illegalizing companies with the CEO:worker salary ratios way above, say, 10; lifting the bottom of US society with credits for the basic needs focused cooperatives.

How could Democrats justify such policies? Through Human Rights:

universal_620

What a marvelous collection of rights and freedoms! Democrats should not forever be accepting the US non-ratification of ESC human rights.

Trump, eager to make his middle class great, may actually do some ESC at the expense of UD to protect them from “trade” with loss of jobs from above and the threat of revolution, with violence from below that has already started, along racial lines, initiated by the White police.

Take the issue-complex “foreign policy-war”. “An isolationist Trump could save American lives”[iii] (and many more non-American lives). But doing so to save money is not good enough; take the issues head on.

“Clinton and Trump jostle for a position over North Korea”[iv] is more to the point: Trump is open to negotiate directly with Kim Jung-un, Hillary sticks to conventional isolation-sanctions-multilateralism.

Trump might become the first US president to take North Korea on the word: “peace treaty-normalization-a nuclear-free Korean peninsula”. Hillary’s line leads nowhere. What is missing is an open debate on the two untouchables: US foreign policy and the US right and duty to war.

The “less-than-Third World” infrastructure” has been mentioned.

However, how about the suicide and homicide rates? Not only the easy gun access aspect, what it says about demoralized US society? How about the shortening of lives due to deteriorating living conditions? How about the climate and the environment, specifics, not generalities? How about the whole American dream or dreams becoming exactly that, a dream only, dreamt in the past?

Trump has a new dream for his chosen people, greatness, Hillary’s dream is status quo since nothing has gone wrong.

And to that we may add: how about US democracy? Does it exist?

“Clinton did not run a clean campaign, she cheated. Caucus after caucus, primary after primary, the Clinton team robbed Sanders of votes that were rightfully his. Here is how. Parties run caucuses. States run primaries. The DNC controlled by Clinton allies like Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz[v]. Democratic governors are behind Clinton: State election officials report to them. These officials decide where to send voting booths, which votes get counted, which do not. You thought this was a democracy? Ha.”[vi]

The details make the “Ha” an understatement. And that in a country so bent on lecturing to others on their lack of democracy. Forget it. Even so, Sanders won 22 states; had basic rules been respected, he would have made a majority of states even if Clinton had delegate majority.

“The world is watching US elections,” CNN says with nationalistic pride. In disbelief and dismay, waiting for guidance beyond mutual name-calling. They may be dwarfs relative to a giant job. But nobody is born a president; they are made by the campaigns and on the job.

So far, the impression is that Trump learns more than Clinton, testing out new ideas well before he can put them into practice. Because he has more to learn, having no experience? Yes, he has a lot to learn. But her “experience”, in killing? In not solving conflicts? Maybe she has a lot to unlearn. Any evidence she does that? None whatsoever.

This gives an edge favoring Trump. We know what to expect from Hillary; not from Trump. On the two huge issue-complexes mentioned above, Hillary spells status quo, Trump not. Trump is gambling on his own–proven to be very high–persuasion capacity. Not quite hopeless.

Notes:
[i]. J. R. Hibbing and E.Theiss-Morse, in an article in Washington Post, make the point that “A Surprising amount of Americans dislike how messy democracy is. They like Trump.”, english@other-news.info, 17 May 2016. In their study 60 percent believed that “government would work better if it were run like a business”.

[ii]. Bryce Covert, “America was great, again”, INYT 17 May 2016: “Donald Trump’s campaign promise is appealing because it promises–to make the country great again for the people who had it pretty great in the first place”.

[iii]. Dough Bandow, Japan Times, 31-05-2016.

[iv]. INYT, 20 May 2016.

[v]. Now dismissed because of an e-mail scandal.

[vi]. Ted Rall, “Clinton beating Sanders by hook and by crook”, Japan Times, 05 July 2016.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 July 2016: TMS: The US Nominations.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Mainstream Media Are Betraying Humanityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mainstream-media-are-betraying-humanity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mainstream-media-are-betraying-humanity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mainstream-media-are-betraying-humanity/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 19:21:32 +0000 John Scales Avery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146343 The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.]]>

The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.

By John Scales Avery
OSLO, Aug 1 2016 (IPS)

Physicians have a sacred duty to their patients, whose lives are in their hands. The practice of medicine is not a business like any other business. There are questions of trust and duty involved. The physician’s goal must not be to make as much money as possible, but rather to save lives.

John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery

Are broadcasting and journalism just businesses like any other business? Is making as much money as possible the only goal? Isn’t the truth sacred? Isn’t finding the truth and spreading it a sacred trust?

Questions of thermonuclear war are involved, or catastrophic long-term climate change.

The survival of human civilization and the survival of the biosphere depend completely on whether the public receives true and important facts, or whether it receives a mixture of lies, propaganda and trivia.

If the erratic, self-centered, bigoted, racist, misogynist, neofascist Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is elected to the US Presidency in 2016, it will be because mass media like CBS find his deliberately outrageous outbursts entertaining and good for ratings.

Besides being manifestly unqualified for the position of President, Trump is an avid climate change denier, and he has said that if elected, he would repudiate the Paris Agreement.“Donald Trump is bad for America, but he is good for CBS” Leslie Roy Moonves, President of CBS

We need to wake up to the real dangers that are facing humanity. Terrorism is not a real danger. The number of people killed by terrorists each year is vanishingly small compared to the number killed in traffic accidents, not to mention the tens of millions who die each year from starvation and preventable diseases.

But the mass media shamelessly magnify terrorist events (some of which may be false flag actions) out of all proportion in order to allow governments to abolish civil liberties and crush dissent.

Meanwhile, the real dangers, the threat of thermonuclear war, the threat of catastrophic climate change, and the threat of a large-scale global famine, these very real threats remain unaddressed.

Our mainstream media have failed us. They are betraying humanity in a time of great crisis. Our educational systems are also failing us, too timid and tradition-bound to warn of the terrible new dangers that the world is facing.

What we need from all the voices that are able to bring a message to a wide public is a warning of the severe dangers that we are facing, combined with an outline of the practical steps that are needed to avert these dangers.

We need realism, we need the important facts, but we also need idealism and optimism.

The fact that our future is in danger must not be an excuse for dispair and inaction, but instead a reason for working with courage and dedication to save the future.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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The Race for the White House Is Heating Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-race-for-the-white-house-is-heating-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-race-for-the-white-house-is-heating-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-race-for-the-white-house-is-heating-up/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:03:33 +0000 Shah Husain Imam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146316 By Shah Husain Imam
Jul 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Brawn, brain and tears sum up the tone, temper and texture of the Republican and Democrat national conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia respectively. The fiesta, patriotic fervour, quiet but eloquent sobbing ,depth of speaker line-up and story-telling presentations fleshed out with anecdotes were the mirror -image of American electoral democracy in action.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Photo: Orchard

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Photo: Orchard

Beneath the dazzling tapestry, however, likability and trust issues dog the steps of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton even as they have secured nomination for the US presidential election in November. An intensely polarizing campaign now sees a new twist, some say an escalation, to the email scandal centred around the use of a personal server by the former secretary of state. One would have thought we had seen the back of it after the FBI investigations. The probe while alluding to a serious lapse of responsibility had ruled out prosecution against her .The Democrat camp has lately accused Trump of inciting Russian ‘espionage’, a suggestion Moscow had earlier vigorously denied. Republicans are out to whip up a national security concern apparently in desperation over the steadying ship of Democrat candidacy.

Women of the Movement for Care representing the victims of gun shots were present at the penultimate phase of the Democratic convention extending their support to Hillary. Her gun control policy found a resonance with them. Simultaneously, the results of Millennial Youth Research were revealed from the podium highlighting the vulnerabilities of Black youths vis-à-vis their White counterparts.

Both the presidential tickets look considerably revamped by the choice of governor Pence and senator Tim Paine ‘ as vice president running mates of Trump and Hillary respectively. Tim in particular, sounds competent to be officiating the president ‘on a short notice.’

Remember, the primaries were hard – fought, precisely , on two levels: First, between the principal candidates ;and secondly the challengers within the parties battling it out to basically to fathom their chances .Chiefly motivated to resist a frontrunner; this in part may have also been actuated by a desire to create a vote bank by way of influence-peddling.

Some of the contestations in the primaries were taken to the national conventions. Ted Cruz who refused to endorse Trump in the convention had to be booed out by “Trump” ,Trump” yells . By comparison , the intensity of passion and level of sophistication exuded by Bernie Sanders in his adversarial posture towards Hillary Clinton were way above the crudity and humiliation traded between Trump camp and Ted Cruz.

It is a huge add-on to the electoral culture that Bernie with his Left predilections and for all his support base among young men and women by virtue of his commitment to social and economic justice and equal opportunities has proved a statesman of no small measure. Although he let his differences with Clinton go down to the wires, he pulled back in time to retain his clout to negotiate a deal with her on projects close to his heart as well as extend the much-needed support to her at the nick of time.

The stakes are high in a Democratic win and so Sanders gave a resounding endorsement for it: “Based on her ideas and her leadership—Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. I am proud to stand with her…”

Powerful endorsement speeches intelligently crafted to cut corners were delivered by party big wigs , former high public office holders, iconic figures ,vice presidential nominees ,let alone spouses , sons and daughters of the candidates .

It is a participatory inner party democracy opening out to a broad spectrum representative system, largely backed by money and served by merit that projects the strength of the US as we know it.

It took 134 years since the American independence for women to be voters; nearly a century is passing us by from that watershed moment with a historic responsibility devolving on the US electorate to have their first woman president. After breaking the jinx of a non-white president, it is turn for a woman incumbent in the White House.

The writer is a contributor to The Daily Star. He can be reached at shahhusainimam@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Colombia Includes Gender Focus for a Stable, Lasting Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 09:41:50 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146295 Representatives of the gender subcommittee to Colombia’s peace talks alongside the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura (centre-left) and U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, during the Jul. 23 presentation of the preliminary results of the novel initiative, in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Karina Terán/U.N.-Women

Representatives of the gender subcommittee to Colombia’s peace talks alongside the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura (centre-left) and U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, during the Jul. 23 presentation of the preliminary results of the novel initiative, in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Karina Terán/U.N.-Women

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jul 29 2016 (IPS)

The novel inclusion of a gender perspective in the peace talks that led to a historic ceasefire between the Colombian government and left-wing guerrillas is a landmark and an inspiration for efforts to solve other armed conflicts in the world, according to the director of U.N.-Women in Colombia, Belén Sanz.

In statements to IPS, Sanz described as “innovative and pioneering” the incorporation of a gender subcommittee in the negotiations between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which began in November 2012 in the Cuban capital and ended in late June with a definitive ceasefire.

She said the large proportion of women who spoke with the negotiating teams, in regional and national forums, and during visits by victims and gender experts to Havana showed the growing openness on both sides to the inclusion of gender proposals in the final accord and the mechanisms for its implementation.

The results of the work by the subcommittee, made up of representatives of both sides, were presented in Havana during a special ceremony on Jul. 23, exactly one month after the ceasefire was signed, putting an end to over a half century of armed conflict.

Taking part in the ceremony were U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura; and Sanz, whose office has worked closely with the subcommittee.

Other participants were María Paulina Riveros, the Colombian government’s delegate to the subcommittee, and Victoria Sandino, the FARC’s representative, along with the rest of the members of the subcommittee, the delegates to the peace talks, and representatives of the countries that served as guarantors to the peace process.

The results of the subcommittee´s work, presented on that occasion, include the incorporation of a gender perspective and the human rights of women in each section of the agreement, starting with guarantees for land access and tenure for women in rural areas.

Other points agreed on were women’s participation in decision-making to help ensure the implementation of a lasting, stable peace; prevention and protection measures for a life free of violence; guarantees of access to truth and justice and measures against impunity; and recognition of the specific and different ways the conflict affected women, often in a disproportionate manner.

“These are some examples that can be illustrative and inspiring for other peace processes around the world,” Sanz said from Bogotá, after her return to the Colombian capital.

Victoria Sandino, a FARC commander, who headed the guerrillas’ representatives to the gender subcommittee in the peace talks with the Colombian government (second-left, wearing red headscarf), poses with members of civil society during the signing of the definitive ceasefire on Jun. 23 in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Victoria Sandino, a FARC commander, who headed the guerrillas’ representatives to the gender subcommittee in the peace talks with the Colombian government (second-left, wearing red headscarf), poses with members of civil society during the signing of the definitive ceasefire on Jun. 23 in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In her view, “these strides forward represent milestones in the promotion of women’s rights and the transformation of gender inequality during the construction of and transition to peace, which could be exported to other places in the world and adapted to their particular conditions and contexts.”

The introduction of a gender focus also includes the search for ensuring conditions for people of different sexual orientations to have equal access to the benefits of living in a country free of armed conflict.

“For women and people with different sexual identities to be able to enjoy a country at peace is not only a basic human rights question: without their participation in the construction of peace and, as a result, without their enjoying the benefits of peace, peace and stability themselves are threatened,” said Sanz.

She cited a study commissioned in 2015 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 15 years after the approval of Security Council Resolution 1325, designed to promote the participation of women in peace processes.

The report showed that women’s participation increases by 20 percent the probability that a peace agreement will last at least 20 years, and by 35 percent the chance that it will last 15 years.

“So if women don’t participate in peace-building processes, not only as ‘beneficiaries’ but as drivers of change and political actors, it’s hard to talk about a stable, lasting peace,” said Sanz.

Erika Paola Jaimes, a survivor of Colombia’s armed conflict, holds a sign about peace during a trip to Havana to participate in the peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels, which led to a peace deal signed Jun. 23 in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Erika Paola Jaimes, a survivor of Colombia’s armed conflict, holds a sign about peace during a trip to Havana to participate in the peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels, which led to a ceasefire signed Jun. 23 in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The U.N. study also shows the risks faced by women in the post-peace deal stages.

According to the report, women in areas affected by the conflict have fewer economic opportunities and suffer the emotional and physical scars of the conflict, without support or recognition – besides often facing routine violence in their homes and communities and shouldering the burden of unpaid care for children and the elderly and household tasks.

In a broader sense, “the structures of inequality remain in place and measures are needed to dismantle them, as well as a commitment by society as a whole,” said Sanz, who described a transition process like the one that Colombia is facing as “a key opportunity” to transform women’s status in society.

She said the continued work of the gender subcommittee is “crucial”, as well as that of women’s organisations, with the support of international aid, in order to incorporate provisions in the agreements to enable these situations of inequality to gradually be transformed, with a view to the period following the signing and implementation of the accords.

The inclusion of gender provisions in peace agreements “opens a window of opportunity for the transformation of existing structures of inequality and can also be an opportunity for other peace processes, during the signing of the agreements and the stage of implementation,” said the head of U.N.-Women.

According to estimates, women account for over 40 percent of the members of the FARC, whose exact numbers are not publicly known.

Overall, women represent slightly over half of the general population of 48 million. However, Colombia is one of the countries in Latin America with the lowest levels of female representation in politics.

In 2015, women represented only 14 percent of town councilors, 17 percent of the members of the lower house of Congress, 10 percent of mayors and nine percent of governors. These figures are still far below the parity that would do justice to the proportion of women in society, states a U.N.-Women report.

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Feminism Slowly Gaining Support at United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/feminism-slowly-gaining-support-at-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feminism-slowly-gaining-support-at-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/feminism-slowly-gaining-support-at-united-nations/#comments Thu, 21 Jul 2016 04:22:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146150 Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 21 2016 (IPS)

Achieving gender equality has long been one of the United Nations’ top priorities yet the word feminism has only recently begun to find its way into speeches at UN headquarters.

Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, one of 12 candidates for the post of UN Secretary-General, explained why she thought her feminism made her suitable for the UN’s top job, during a globally televised debate, on 12 July.

“I happen to be a woman, I don’t think this is enough, I happen to be a feminist and I think this is (important),” Pusic said, to applause from the diplomats and UN staff filling the UN General Assembly hall.

Pusic joins other high profile feminists at the UN including British actor Emma Watson, whose September 2014 speech about her own feminism gained worldwide media attention.

More recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a UN meeting in March 2016 that there shouldn’t be such a big reaction every time he uses the word feminist.

“For me, it’s just really obvious. We should be standing up for women’s rights and trying to create more equal societies,” he said.

Perhaps more significant though than these speeches is Sweden’s recent election to the UN Security Council on a feminist foreign policy platform.

“I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists.” -- Emma Watson

Sweden will join the 15-member council for two years in January 2017, the same month that the new Secretary-General will take office. There are hopes that the UN’s ninth Secretary-General, will be the first woman to lead the organisation, with women making up half of the 12 candidates currently under consideration.

“There could be a lot of elements coming together to finally create some momentum for progress,” Jessica Neuwirth, one of the founders and Honorary President of Equality Now told IPS.

Even the number of female candidates running represents a change for the UN, Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK told IPS.

“Not only has no woman ever held the UN’s top job, but just three of 31 formal candidates in previous appointments have been female.”

The push to select a female Secretary-General has seen all candidates, both male and female, eager to show their commitment to gender equality.

Whoever is selected will be continuing on work already started by current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said Neuwirth, who believes that Ban has shown a commitment to gender equality at the UN, even if he may not use the word feminist to describe himself.

“I’m not a person who really lives or dies on the words, I think what people do is really much more important than what they call themselves,” said Neuwirth, who is the director of Donor Direct Action, founded to raise funds for frontline women’s groups.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever heard (Ban) use the word feminist, definitely not to describe himself,” she added. “On the other hand as somebody who had the privilege of working at the UN during his tenure I did see first hand the efforts he made to increase the representation of women at the UN at the highest levels, he made a very conscious effort to increase those numbers.”

“It’s still not 50:50 and it’s even slid backwards which is disappointing, but he showed that one person can make a big difference.”

Samarasinghe also noted that even if the word feminist is not explicitly used at the UN, its meaning is reflected in the UN’s many objectives for achieving gender equality.

“Feminism is about women and men having equal opportunities and rights – something reaffirmed countless times in UN documents, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights onwards.”

However Samarasinghe noted that the word feminist remains controversial. The UN’s 193 member states include many countries which lag far behind outliers such as Sweden and Canada on gender equality.

“Being a feminist is a complete no-brainer. It’s like having to explain to people that you’re not racist. But clearly the word is still controversial so we have to keep using it until people get it,” she said.

Emma Watson noted in her high profile UN speech, that the word feminist is not as easy to use as it should be.

“I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists.”

“Apparently, I’m among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men. Unattractive, even,” said Watson.

In late 2015, some media reported that Watson had said she had been advised not to use the word feminist in her speech.

Neuwirth who was present when Watson made her speech told IPS that Watson’s choice of words ultimately had a strong impact.

“That was an incredible event, I mean the level of emotion in that room was so high it was kind of shocking to me.”

“There were so many diplomats there, which was a good thing, and it was just really a powerful speech that she made, and it moved them, you could just see visibly that it moved them,” said Neuwirth.

However since Watson’s speech, progress on gender equality at the UN has not always been easy.

Media organisation PassBlue, which monitors gender equality at the UN, has noted that the number of women appointed to senior UN positions has been slipping.

When Sweden takes up its position on the Security Council, it will have big strides to make on both improving women’s representation in decision making positions at the UN and enacting policies which promote gender equality more broadly.

In fact, it is anticipated that all 15 permanent representatives on the UN Security Council in 2017 will be men, unless the United States chooses a woman to replace Samantha Power, who is expected to leave her post by the end of 2016.

Sweden hopes to use its seat on the Security Council to increase women’s involvement in negotiating and mediating peace agreements, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at a media briefing hosted by Donor Direct Action on 30 June.

Neuwirth welcomed Wallstrom’s comments, noting that in Syria, for example, women continue to be shut out of peace negotiations.

Syrian women “are trying to play a meaningful role in the negotiations over Syria, which are totally a mess,” she said, “yet these women really just are struggling so hard to get even inside a corridor let alone to the table.”

“Why wouldn’t they just give these women a little more of a chance to see if they could do better, because it would be hard to do worse?”

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Civil Society Organizations Worried About Declining Involvementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 02:48:29 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/feed/ 0 First Independent Expert To Tackle LGBTI Discrimination: “Historic Victory”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2016 19:48:48 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145910 Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Phillip Kaeding
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 1 2016 (IPS)

Human rights groups have described the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) decision on Thursday to appoint an independent expert to target the ongoing discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people all over the world as a “historic victory.”

“For LGBTI people everywhere who have fought so hard for this victory, take strength from this recognition, and let today represent the dawn of a new day,” OutRight International’s executive director Jessica Stern said. OutRight International was one of 28 non-governmental groups which welcomed the resolution with a joint statement.

More than 600 nongovernmental organizations helped ensure that the HRC in Geneva adopted the resolution to “protect people against violence & discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

The establishment of an expert-position for these problems is a significant step since not all of the UN’s 193 members see eye to eye on LGBTI issues. “A UN Independent Expert sends a clear message that violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are a concern for the international community and need to be addressed by Member States,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told IPS.

With regard to compliance, Fisher said: “Of course, some States will decline to cooperate, which only underlines the need for the outreach work that an Independent Expert will conduct. Members of the Human Rights Council are required by a GA (General Assembly) resolution to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the biggest defenders of LGBT rights in the United States, expressed its approval, too. Jamil Dakwar, ACLU’s International Human Rights Director, told IPS the HRC resolution “is yet another affirmation that the promise of universal human rights leaves no one behind.”

"Transgender persons face laws which deny their fundamental self-defined gender identity." -- John Fisher

He also emphasized that “even in a country like the United States, where some LGBT rights are legally recognized, recent events, including the tragic mass shooting at an LGBT club in Orlando and the post-marriage equality legislative backlash against transgender people, confirm that the human rights of LGBT communities are in dire need of attention and protection.”

Indeed, although many states are making progress, LGBTI people still face discrimination and violence. According to studies, between half and two thirds of LGBTI students in the US, UK and Thailand are bullied at school and thirty percent of them skip school to avoid the trouble.

Fisher said to IPS that “discrimination is faced in access to health, housing, education and employment, transgender persons face laws which deny their fundamental self-defined gender identity.”

In the past years, violence, particularly against transgender people was shockingly common. For example, the 2014 report of the Anti-Violence Project showed that police violence was 7 times more likely to affect transgender people than non-transgenders. The 2015 report, released this June, revealed that 67 percent of victims of hate violence related killings of LGBTQ people were transgender.

A study released this week shows that there are 1.4 million transgender persons living in the United States: Twice as many as previously estimated. Although the US is slowly addressing some issues related to LGBT rights, such as removing barriers for transgender persons in the military some states have begun banning transgender people from using the bathroom according to the gender they identify with.

Human Rights Watch and others are happy to witness progress in states like the US and many Latin American countries. There was a clear pattern in the voting behavior of Thursday’s HRC meeting, too. No African and few Asian countries (only South Korea and Vietnam) voted in favor of the resolution. The 18 votes against the new resolution came among others from Russia, China and various Arab States.

The non-governmental actors who supported the resolution, however, also came from developing countries. “It is important to note that around 70 percent of the organizations are from the global south,” Yahia Zaidi of the MantiQitna Network said.

The resolution builds on previous HRC decisions in 2011 and 2014. In the newest draft, the independent expert is the most important innovation. Still, other parts of it were debated, too:

“Some amendments were adopted suggesting that cultural and religious values should be respected; these amendments could be interpreted as detracting from the universality of human rights. The resolution does, however, also include a provision from the outcome document of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, affirming the primacy of human rights,” Fisher reported from the council in Geneva.

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Women’s Health Takes Center Stage at UN Population Awards   http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-health-takes-center-stage-at-un-population-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-health-takes-center-stage-at-un-population-awards http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-health-takes-center-stage-at-un-population-awards/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 15:38:18 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145796 By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2016 (IPS)

Social Scientist, Carmen Barroso and Polish Organisation, Childbirth in Dignity received the United Nations Population Awards here Thursday for their outstanding work in population, improving individuals’ health and welfare, and specifically for their decades-long leadership in women’s rights.

“I dedicate this award to anonymous health providers everywhere, who day in and day out help women to exercise their rights and preserve their health,” said Barroso on accepting the award.

Barroso has been actively involved in reproductive health and population issues for more than forty years. She was selected for her leadership in developing programmes, funding and policies related to sexual and reproductive health and rights and for mobilising the voices of people in the South around those issues.

In 1966, Sao Paulo, Brazil, a country rising under the weight of a military dictatorship, Barroso was a 22 year old college student living off of her husband’s meagre salary. Committed to achieving social justice, they did not plan to start a family for many years, and had a very important vision of their future.

On birth control for a long time, she was becoming uncomfortable with the hormones she was putting into her body. A doctor offered her an alternative: IUDs. When she started, she began having copious periods of painful cramps, but she decided to wait in hope they would go away. But they didn’t. One day, she missed her period.

She froze with horror: “All of a sudden, the castle of my future came crashing down.”

At the time, abortion was a taboo subject. She never thought it was something that would happen to her, but now she knew that was what she wanted, and went to the doctor.

He performed the abortion, telling her to keep it secret and cover it up as a miscarriage.

“I would not be here today if it weren’t for the courage of a doctor operating under restrictive laws. Because of him, we were able to live the future we dreamed of.”

Later Barroso became a senior researcher with the Chagas Foundation, where she pioneered innovative evaluation methods and later created Brazil’s first and foremost women’s studies center, despite protest from colleagues who saw it as an “imperialistic import of feminist ideology.”

Dr. Barroso became the first non-American to be appointed as director in the US MacArthur Foundation, and she recently resigned from her tenure as Director of Planned Parenthood International, Western Hemisphere.

Childbirth in Dignity Foundation

Twenty years ago in Poland, pregnant women had little freedom to choose the environment in which they gave birth. Lack of privacy, loneliness and inadequate support were the rule, with women having to go through mandatory episiotomies, and other arcane procedures such as not having time with their newborn child immediately, or having their significant other in the room during childbirth, made the experience far from joyful, in fact, humiliating in many cases.

A nationwide campaign, “Childbirth with Dignity” which empowered women to share their stories, caught international attention, causing government legislative action like Perinatal and Postnatal Care Standards in line with World Health Organization (WHO) standards. Partners are now allowed in the delivery room, mothers can have visitors, and newborns are able to breastfeed, being placed in the mother’s arms to bond right after being born making childbirth an easier experience for mothers.

Childbirth in Dignity Foundation was awarded for their strong advocacy and support of the rights of women and newborns for over 20 years, and for empowering women, as patients, to demand their rights in relation to childbirth.

Both laureates were chosen from among several international nominees, by the Committee for the United Nations Population Award chaired by Paraguay, and including Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Haiti, Iran, Israel and Poland. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) serves as secretariat for the award.

Past laureates selected by the Committee included individuals and organizations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Dr. Allan Rosenfield, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and the Population Council.

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Bringing Back Our Girls Is Not The End of The Storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 21:08:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145779 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/feed/ 0 Mixed Progress at UN on Rights of Persons with Disabilitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/mixed-progress-at-un-on-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mixed-progress-at-un-on-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/mixed-progress-at-un-on-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2016 04:25:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145715 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/mixed-progress-at-un-on-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/feed/ 0 A Courageous Life After Escaping the Lord’s Resistance Armyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-courageous-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-courageous-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-courageous-life/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 02:32:12 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145675 Evelyn Amony. Credit: Erin Baines / UN Women

Evelyn Amony. Credit: Erin Baines / UN Women

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Evelyn Amony’s bravery not only helped her survive and escape captivity from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), but has made her an advocate for thousands of abducted women and children who face long term consequences after returning home.

Raised in Amuru District, northern Uganda, Evelyn Amony’s family, neighbours, and friends were bound into a close community. Her happiest memory was when she received the second-highest grade in her class. “When I was a child, my biggest interest was my education,” Amony told Inter Press Service.

“When my father heard the news, he slaughtered a goat and gave me the liver,”  says Amony in her memoir, “I Am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My  Life From The Lord’s Resistance Army.” But the next term, she was abducted by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and did not get to attend Primary Five.

IPS spoke with Amony ahead of the launch of her book at the UN, organised by UN Women, the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Liu Institute for Global Issues, the University of British Columbia and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN.

She recounts her 11 years in captivity – being trained as the personal escort of the notorious LRA leader Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court. Too young to know that childbirth would be painful, Amony was forced to become Kony’s wife and bore him three children from age 14.

“I remember how hard it was to be forced to walk long distances from Uganda to Southern Sudan, to the point where my feet were swollen and I would ask God to just let me rest, and that if I was abducted for the purpose to be killed, then God should let them kill me as fast as they could,” she recalls.

Amony tried to convince Kony to end the war. She tried escaping for years, eventually succeeding ten years later. Shot at many times, surviving a violent ambush, Amony began her journey to freedom from Southern Sudan. “It was at that moment I knew God was really there,” Amony told IPS. On reaching Uganda she was reunited with her family and two of her daughters, one is still missing.

War of Reintegration

For Amony and thousands of formerly abducted women, leaving war did not mean the war was over. In northern Uganda, coming back from the bush to communities where the LRA committed atrocities, meant facing further violence and discrimination.

Reintegrating into the community after over a decade of war, having missed school, meant finding a job was unlikely. Yet many women struggle single-handedly to raise their children.

One of these women may have to see the commander that abused her at the community market daily, says Ketty Anyeko of the Uganda Fund, an organisation that has helped reintegrate some 2,800 war-affected women.

"It was not easy for me to introduce myself as the chairperson of Women’s Advocacy Network because whenever I went, they would say “Oh, you are the wife of Joseph Kony”. They would reduce me to “rebel wife” and not see me as a “woman advocate." -- Evelyn Amony

“Uganda has a culture of forgiveness, so these LRA commanders can live freely. But for sexual violence, it is not easy to forgive and forget,” said Anyeko. These women are also often rejected by their families, so do not have access to land or resources needed for them and their children to survive.

Of every five children in northern Uganda, 3 were born during the war in the bush, said Amony. More than 66,000 children have been abducted in the Uganda region by the LRA, according to UNICEF. Only about 6,000 have returned. Many are physically impaired. Amony’s younger daughter, Grace, has hearing problems because of loud gunfire; her elder daughter Bakita’s eyesight is affected. That is in addition to the trauma and experience of war.

“When I ask male children what they want to do when they grow up, many say they want to be soldiers. When I ask why, they tell me that if you are a soldier you have the power to do whatever you want to do, you can get whatever woman you want, because you can use the gun. This is what they have been taught,” Amony says. It is not surprising then that children who returned are viewed negatively and seen as likely to take after their fathers who were part of LRA. In schools, children suffer stigma because some teachers refer to them as the “children of Kony.”

Unable to continue in that environment, many give up education. Girls are becoming pregnant as teenagers and male children are ending up on the streets, Amony says. In short, children are punished for the crimes of the LRA commanders.

When a war-affected woman remarries, the husband often does not show love for the children born in conflict, and even refuses to pay school fees. For Amony, all these are challenges to be overcome.

“I love to speak to children to the point where on holidays many of the kids spend time with me,” she says. They ask her questions to which she has no answers. They want to go to school but Amony does not have the resources to help them. “There are so many of Kony’s children, and they have an impression that I know where their father is,” Amony says.

Women’s Advocacy Network

It was tough for Amony to reintegrate also. After her escape, she attended a tailoring school, where there were 7 other formerly abducted women. When they went to get food, the other students would leave the serving table as they didn’t want to sit with them.

Because they shared similar hardships, Amony and the 7 women decided to start a small group to help each other. Their efforts soon expanded to organizing women in the larger community. But the LRA’s massacres had caused conflict between the communities. The group was sometimes pressured not to go to one community or another. But they persisted, angering one group or the other. Some in Amony’s group were very afraid. But when Amony told them her story, they cried. Amony knew she had won the battle.

In Gulu District, they established three groups of survivors. The Transitional Justice experts Ketty Anyeko and Erin Baines, stepped in to encourage the work. “We started getting involved in community theatre exercises to narrate our experiences in a very visual way,” Amony said. “This was when we started telling the deeper stories about our lives and the war, and we would all cry together.” In 2011, more survivor groups were formed and Amony was elected the chairperson of  the Women’s Advocacy Network. They began radio talk shows reaching out to the grassroots. They visited district offices to raise awareness. “It was not easy for me to introduce myself as the chairperson of Women’s Advocacy Network because whenever I went, they would say “Oh, you are the wife of Joseph Kony”. They would reduce me to “rebel wife” and not see me as a “woman advocate,” Amony said.

“I come here as Evelyn Amony to explain to you what women who suffered the conflict want,” was her response. Today, there are about 16 WAN groups, growing from 20 to 900 formerly abducted women in the last three years.

But it was not easy. “When we introduced ourselves as children who were formerly abducted, their initial reaction would be that we were the ones who committed atrocities.” The survivors explained that they too were victims and that the community must join hands and work together.

“What can we do to ensure Ugandan children live a normal life?” Amony wants to know.

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Bougainville Women Turn Around Lives of ‘Lost Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:08:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145600 Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
HAKO, Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea , Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Finding a sense of identity and purpose, as well as employment are some of the challenges facing youths in post-conflict Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

They have been labelled the ‘lost generation’ due to their risk of being marginalised after missing out on education during the Bougainville civil war (1989-1998), known locally as the ‘Crisis’.

But in Hako constituency, where an estimated 30,000 people live in villages along the north coast of Buka Island, North Bougainville, a local women’s community services organisation refuses to see the younger generation as anything other than a source of optimism and hope.

“They are our future leaders and our future generation, so we really value the youths,” Dorcas Gano, president of the Hako Women’s Collective (HWC) told IPS.“There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened." -- Gregory Tagu, who was in fifth grade when the war broke out.

Youth comprise about 60 percent of Bougainville’s estimated population of 300,000, which has doubled since the 1990s. The women’s collective firmly believes that peace and prosperity in years to come depends on empowering young men and women in these rainforest-covered islands to cope with the challenges of today with a sense of direction.

One challenge, according to Gregory Tagu, a youth from Kohea village, is the psychological transition to a world without war.

“Nowadays, youths struggle to improve their lives and find a job because they are traumatised. During the Crisis, young people grew up with arms and knives and even today they go to school, church and walk around the village with knives,” Tagu explained.

Tens of thousands of children were affected by the decade-long conflict, which erupted after demands for compensation for environmental damage and inequity by landowners living in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the mountains of central Bougainville were unmet. The mine, majority-owned by Rio Tinto, a British-Australian multinational, opened in 1969 and was operated by its Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, until it was shut down in 1989 by revolutionary forces.

The conflict raged on for another eight years after the Papua New Guinea Government blockaded Bougainville in 1990 and the national armed forces and rebel groups battled for control of the region.

Many children were denied an education when schools were burnt down and teachers fled. They suffered when health services were decimated, some became child soldiers and many witnessed severe human rights abuses.

Tagu was in fifth grade when the war broke out. “There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened,” he recalled.

Trauma is believed to contribute to what women identify as a youth sub-culture today involving alcohol, substance abuse and petty crime, which is inhibiting some to participate in positive development.

They believe that one of the building blocks to integrating youths back into a peaceful society is making them aware of their human rights.

In a village meeting house about 20-30 young men and women, aged from early teens to late thirties, gather in a circle as local singer Tasha Kabano performs a song about violence against women. Then Anna Sapur, an experienced village court magistrate, takes the floor to speak about what constitutes human rights abuses and the entitlement of men, women and children to lives free of injustice and physical violations. Domestic violence, child abuse and neglect were key topics in the vigorous debate which followed.

But social integration for this age group also depends on economic participation. Despite 15 years of peace and better access to schools, completing education is still a challenge for many. An estimated 90 percent of students leave before the end of Grade 10 with reasons including exam failure and inability to meet costs.

“There are plenty of young people who cannot read and write, so we really need to train them in adult literacy,” Elizabeth Ngosi, an HWC member from Tuhus village declared, adding that currently they don’t have access to this training.

Similar to other small Pacific Island economies, only a few people secure formal sector jobs in Bougainville while the vast majority survive in the informal economy.

At the regional level, Justin Borgia, Secretary for the Department of Community Development, said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government is keen to see a long-term approach to integrating youths through formal education and informal life skills training. District Youth Councils with government assistance have identified development priorities including economic opportunities, improving local governance and rule of law.

In Hako, women are particularly concerned for the 70 percent of early school leavers who are unemployed and in 2007 the collective conducted their first skills training program. More than 400 youths were instructed in 30 different trade and technical skills, creative visual and music art, accountancy, leadership, health, sport, law and justice and public speaking.

Two-thirds of those who participated were successful in finding employment, Gano claims.

“Some of them have work and some have started their own small businesses….Some are carpenters now and have their own small contracts building houses back in the villages,” she said.

Tuition in public speaking was of particular value to Gregory Tagu.

“I have no CV or reference, but with my public speaking skills I was able to tell people about my experience and this helped me to get work,” Tagu said. Now he works as a truck driver for a commercial business and a technical officer for the Hako Media Unit, a village-based media resource set up after an Australian non-government organisation, Pacific Black Box, provided digital media training to local youths.

Equipping young people with skills and confidence is helping to shape a new future here and further afield. HWC’s president is particularly proud that some from the village have gone on to take up youth leadership positions in other parts of Bougainville, including the current President of the Bougainville Youth Federation.

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The Art of Covering Up in Somalilandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-art-of-covering-up-in-somaliland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-art-of-covering-up-in-somaliland http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-art-of-covering-up-in-somaliland/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 09:49:23 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145579 Hasna (left) and Marwa (right), nurses in their early twenties, were reluctant to be photographed on the street—primarily because of attention this drew from male Somalilanders—but were more comfortable in a quiet café. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Hasna (left) and Marwa (right), nurses in their early twenties, were reluctant to be photographed on the street—primarily because of attention this drew from male Somalilanders—but were more comfortable in a quiet café. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
HARGEISA, Somaliland, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Hargeisa, Somaliland’s sun-blasted capital, women in various traditional Islamic modes of dress barter, argue and joke with men—much of it particularly volubly. Somaliland women are far from submissive and docile.

Somaliland’s culture is strongly influenced by Islam—Sharia law is included in its constitution—while this religiousness appears to co-exist with many signs of a liberal free market society, a dynamic embodied by Somaliland women whose roles in society and the economy undercut certain stereotypes about women’s Muslim clothing equalling submission or coercion.

“The West needs to stop obsessing about what women are wearing—whether those in the West who are wearing less or those in the East who are wearing more,” says 29-year-old Zainab, relaxing in a new trendy café after her day job as a dentist in Hargeisa. “It should focus on what women are contributing to the community and country.”“It’s about what’s inside your head, not what’s over your head.” -- Zainab, dentist.

Somaliland has had to develop a strong entrepreneurial streak since 1991 and its declaration of independence from Somalia never being recognised by the international community, leaving it to rebuild its shattered economy and infrastructure alone following a civil war.

Today, many small businesses are run by women, who in addition to bringing up large numbers of children are often breadwinners for families whose husbands were physically or mentally scarred by the war.

“Here women are butchers—that doesn’t happen in many places. It shows you how tough Somaliland women are,” Zainab says. “It’s about what’s inside your head, not what’s over your head.”

The issue of how the Quran, the central religious text of Islam, instructs women to dress is a source of continuing debate around the world, although a traditional stance is taken in Somaliland with all women covering at least their hair in public.

“Everyone is free to follow their religion and this is what the Islamic religion says: that a woman should cover their body,” says Kaltun Hassan Abdi, a commissioner at the National Electoral Commission, responsible for female representation in elections.  “It’s an obligation, so women don’t see it as discrimination or violation of rights.”

But some Somalilanders express concern about a steady drift toward Islamic conservatism in Hargeisa: music no longer blares out from teashops; colourful Somali robes are increasingly replaced by black abayas; more women are wearing niqabs—face veils—than a year ago; and no woman goes about town bareheaded as happened in the 1970s.

“The last 15-18 years have witnessed a dramatic change in the extent to which religion influences how people live their daily lives,” says Rakiya Omaar, a lawyer and chair of Horizon Institute, a consultancy firm that works on strengthening the capacity and self-reliance of institutions in Somaliland. “There is pressure to live as a serious Muslim—it may be subtle or overt; it may come from family or it may be the wider society that you interact with.”

But it’s hard to find a woman in Hargeisa who says she feels pressurised by Islam or society’s adherence to it (women in smaller towns or rural areas are more likely to face increased religious conservatism, Omaar notes).

“I asked myself why I wear the hijab, and decided because that’s Allah’s will, and it’s part of my religion and my identity, and since then it’s been a choice,” Zainab says.

Zainab at work n Hargeisa, Somaliland. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Zainab at work n Hargeisa, Somaliland. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

During Mohamed Siad Barre’s communist-inspired dictatorship throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Islam was suppressed in Somalia. Since Somaliland broke away, Islam has been able to reassert itself—including the flourishing of madrassas, Islamic religious schools—with positive effects, according to some.

“There are problems for women here but they’re not due to religion rather they are Somali cultural problems,” says Khadar Husein, operational director of the Hargeisa office of Transparency Solutions, a UK-based organization focused on capacity building in civil society.

“The man is mainly dominant in Somali society—things like domestic violence go back to that culture but has no root in Islam. Getting a more religious society means eliminating those cultural problems.”

But religion doesn’t appear to be easing restrictions on women in Somaliland’s political life.

“Without a women’s quota I don’t think there will be any more women in parliament,” Baar Saed Farah, the only female in the 82-member Lower Chamber of parliament, says about current lobbying to give 30 seats to women from forthcoming elections in 2017 (no women are permitted in the 82-member House of Elders in the Upper Chamber).

“In normal employment there is no differentiation between genders but when it comes to political participation it becomes very difficult for women because of a culture that favours men,” Farah says. “It has been there for a long time—even women may not accept a woman running for election as they’re so used to men always leading and making decisions.”

Somaliland remains a strongly male-dominated society. Polygyny, where a man can take several wives, is widely condoned and practised. Marriages are frequently arranged between the groom and the family of the bride—without the latter’s consent—and it’s easier for men to initiate a divorce. The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the Somalia region stands at about 95 percent, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund.

And while Somaliland women may be a force to be reckoned with among markets and street-side trading, they still face many limits to full economic opportunities.

“They only operate small businesses, you won’t find many rich business women here,” says Nafisa Yusuf Mohamed, director of Hargeisa-based female empowerment organisation Nagaad Network. “For now there aren’t many alternatives, but this could change as enrolment in higher education is improving.”

Expanding female education is also affecting Somaliland’s increasing religiousness, Mohamed explains, as today’s young women better understand than their mothers the Quran, becoming more avid adherents in the process.

She notes how many young Somalilanders such as her 17-year-old daughter, who recently started wearing the niqab of her own volition, use social media to discuss and learn more about Islam once they finish attending madrassas.

There are also other more prosaic reasons for wearing the likes of the niqab, observers note. Some women wear them because they are shy, or want to protect their skin from harsh sunlight, or want to fit in with friends wearing them.

Changing Muslim clothing trends may be most noticeable to the outsider, but other developments also illustrate Somaliland’s increasing religiousness: the extent mosque prayer times affect working hours, both in the public and private sector; the higher proportion of adults praying the full five times a day; and the increasing numbers of mosques built.

“These changes are also a response to wider regional and international developments which have affected the Muslim world, in particular the growing perception that life in the Western world is becoming more hostile to Muslims,” Omaar says.

Although for most Somalilanders, exasperation with the West appears to primarily stem from how countries such as the UK—Somaliland was a UK protectorate until 1960—continue to not recognise its sovereign status, resulting in enormous financial drawbacks for the country.

Hence, as Somaliland celebrates its 25th anniversary of unrecognized independence this year, its economy remains perilously fragile, with poverty and unemployment rampant among its roughly four million-plus population.

“If you look at the happiness of Somalilanders and the challenges they are facing it does not match,” Husein says. “They are happy because of their values and religion.”

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Menstrual Hygiene Gaps Continue to Keep Girls from Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 21:16:02 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145341 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school/feed/ 0 UNFPA Funding Cuts Threaten Women’s Health in Poorer Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 18:22:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145327 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations/feed/ 1