Inter Press Service » Women in Politics http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 26 Jul 2016 07:56:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 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 County Governments in Kenya Must Take Lead in Fight for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 13:32:26 +0000 Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145222 Ms Tarja Fernandez, @fernandeztarja, is the Ambassador of Finland to Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1, is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

By Ambassador Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 22 2016 (IPS)

The 3rd Devolution Conference that took place in Meru, Kenya between 19 and 21st April was an opportunity to discuss how the post-2015 development agenda will be localized and how county governments will deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said that devolution is vital in helping the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And this is beautifully aligned to Kenya’s own Vision 2030, which is to create a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya with a high quality of life by 2030.

Devolution is all about inclusion and participation. Devolution is therefore also an opportunity to champion gender equality.

So the SDG goal number 5, is about, “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” is one of the key drivers of sustainable development. Half of the population should not be left behind. Inclusion of women and girls must be at the core of the development plans will accelerate potential for economic growth and well-being of the societies at large.

In order to address gender and other inequalities county governments need to know about them.

As was evident with the Millennium Development Goals, data derived from national surveys tend to miss the marginal numbers and thus downplay serious regional disparities, as the averages used in reporting progress mask the suffering of many.

For instance, while national data indicates that Kenya’s total fertility rate is 3.9, parts of the country have a total fertility rate of up to 7.8. This represents women who have limited decision making power about when or if they should have children, for reasons ranging from lack of family planning information and services to religious and cultural practices.

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS, 2014) indicates that the national prevalence of female genital mutilation is 21%. However, among the communities where the practice is still intractable, the rates go up to 98%.

Clearly, there are populations whose concerns are going unheeded.

It is the voices of such populations that county governments have an opportunity to amplify as they seek to find relevance for the SDGs.

How can this be done? By providing opportunities for women of all ages to participate in county planning and budgeting processes. Being aware of their rights and listening to their needs. Building county governments’ capacities to analyze gender issues and address them in the County Integrated Development Plans. Sensitizing men on the benefits of providing more space for women to participate decision making, both at home and in public spheres of life. Moreover, including men consistently in discussions related to gender equality.

For gender responsiveness to be met, the equity principle must underlie the identification of priorities, planning, budgeting and service delivery. Collecting county disaggregated data will be a key to identification of development needs, and culturally acceptable solutions. In addition, community participation will be crucial to ensuring that the voices of women and girls, the youth and the marginalized, will no-longer be left unheard.

Counties now have the opportunity to identify their own priorities and to design service delivery mechanisms suitable for local needs. Each county in Kenya has its own unique challenges and circumstances, but also the resources to solve its problems. Respecting and utilizing valuable local traditions that do not violate human rights can be a rich resource from which development plans can draw knowledge, legitimacy and participation.

Though recent surveys such as the DHS 2014 have quality data from the regions, the counties themselves need a lot of support to generate, access and utilize disaggregated data with measurable indicators. As observed recently by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, tackling inequalities and measuring progress towards sustainable development is constrained by a lack of core population data and under-developed capacity to use such data for development.

Changing entrenched gender inequalities is, however, not an easy task. There are deep social, economic and cultural forces that drive stereotyping and discrimination and these will not disappear without deliberate actions.

These actions by all counties are a key approach to nationalizing the SDGs, reducing inequalities, especially gender inequality, while unlocking the potential that women have for delivering sustainable change.

At the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14th-24th March 2016, President Kenyatta was among the 80 leaders that made commitments to advance gender equality and ensure equal opportunity. He said, “I’m convinced that our nations and the world stand to gain tremendously if we continue to embrace that progress for women is progress for us all. Investing in women is more than a matter of rights; it is the right thing to do.”

As development partners in Kenya we are committed to work with Government of Kenya and the county authorities to advance gender equality and empowerment.

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Justice for Berta Caceres Incomplete Without Land Rights: UN Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 21:44:24 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145113 UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

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

The murder of Honduran Indigenous woman Berta Caceres is only too familiar to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All around the world, Indigenous peoples are murdered, raped and kidnapped when their lands fall in the path of deforestation, mining and construction. According to the group Global Witness, one Indigenous person was killed almost every week in 2015 because of their environmental activism, 40 percent of the total 116 people killed for environmental activism.

“We shouldn’t forget that the death of Berta is because of the protest that she had against the destruction of the territory of her people,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS in a recent interview.

Caceres, who was murdered at the beginning of March, had long known her life was in danger. She experienced violence and intimidation as a leader of the Lenca people of Rio Blanco who protested the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on their traditional lands.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Caceres activism received international recognition, including through the 2015 Goldman Prize, however this was not enough to protect her.

She knew she was going to die, she had even written her own obituary, said Tauli-Corpuz who met with Caceres during a visit to Honduras in 2015.

Four men were arrested in relation to Caceres death earlier this week.

While Tauli-Corpuz welcomed the arrests she said that justice would not be clear until after the trial, and that real justice was about more than the criminal proceedings for Caceres murder.

“We cannot rest on our laurels to say the whole thing is finished because that’s not the point,” she said. “The point is this whole issue about the dam still being there.”

Tauli-Corpuz has witnessed accounts of violence against many other Indigenous activists around the world, in her role as Special Rapporteur.

Their experiences have startling similarity, Indigenous peoples are subjected to rape, murder and kidnap, whenever they stand in the way of access to lands or natural resources.

“You cannot delink the fight of indigenous people for their lands, territories and resources from the violence that’s committed against indigenous women (and men), especially if this is a violence that is perpetrated by state authorities or by corporate security,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz also said that a look at the bigger picture reveals the increasingly international nature of the problems experienced by Indigenous peoples worldwide.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries,” she said.

“You see a situation where the state is meant to be the main duty bearer for protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, but at the same time you see investors having strong rights being protected and that is really where a lot of conflicts come up,” she said.

In Guatemala, Tauli-Corpuz says that 50 Indigenous women are still waiting for justice after their husbands were murdered and their lands taken in 1982.

“(Their) husbands were killed by the military because they were demanding the rights to their lands then (the military) took the women (to) the military camps and raped them and made them sexual slaves,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the women were brave enough to take their case to the courts but had to cover their faces because they were still being harassed by the military.

She said that when she recently asked the women what they would like if they won their case, they said that they would like their land back. After 33 years, their lands have never been returned.

Tauli-Corpuz also noted that for Indigenous peoples justice is incomplete if their lands are protected but they are denied access to them.

“(The land) is the source of their identities, their cultures and their livelihoods,” she said. If the forest is preserved but people are kicked off their lands, “than that’s a another problem that has to be prevented at all costs.”

In other cases, Indigenous peoples are forced off their lands when their food sources are destroyed.

For example said Tauli-Corpuz a major dam being built in the Amazon is not only destroying the forest but also means that there are no longer any fish in the rivers for the Indigenous people who rely on them.

Tauli-Corpuz said that it is important to remember that Indigenous peoples are contributing to climate change and environmental solutions by continuing their traditional ways of forest and ecosystem management.

Tauli-Corpuz has first-hand experience as an Indigenous activist and environmental defender. As a leader of the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines she helped successfully protest the construction of the Chico River Hydroelectric dam in the 1970s.

She notes that dams shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a climate change solution because they destroy forests and produce methane which is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon.

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OPINION: After the Primarieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/after-the-primaries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-the-primaries http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/after-the-primaries/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 18:47:57 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145112

In this column Joaquín Roy (roy@miami.edu), Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, writes about this year’s unusual race for president of the United States.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, May 13 2016 (IPS)

It was no news to observers, analysts and potential voters that Hillary Clinton would seek the Democratic nomination again to run for president of the United States in November 2016. This was not a surprise. But what only a bold analyst could have speculated is that Bill Clinton’s wife would end up facing off against such unlikely rivals.

On one hand, she would face novel competition in her party from another, very different, senator. Hillary would have to present herself as the candidate who truly represented the ideals of the Democratic Party, in contrast to Bernie Sanders, who declared himself a “socialist”. Although no one expects him to defeat her in the primaries, Sanders has put up an unexpectedly strong showing.

On the other hand, even more surprising and unusual was that Hillary would go up against a one-of-a-kind Republican candidate, who has triggered much consternation and extreme comments. If Donald Trump’s nomination is confirmed in Cleveland, it will go down in U.S. history as one of the strangest political races. Voters, observers and analysts are still wondering about the reasons underlying his spectacular ascent – which Clinton should worry about, if she means to defeat him.

The Sanders phenomenon can be explained to some extent using traditional analytical methods. The ideological inclinations of the senator from Vermont are not really that new. So far it has merely been a curious case of a political leader not afraid to use terminology outside of the grasp of most citizens and voters. It is not easy to translate what is known in Europe as “social democracy” into U.S. English. “Social Democrat” or “Democratic Socialist” are terms that don’t fit into the everyday vocabulary of people in the U.S. So to simplify, he opted for “Socialist”, which in the U.S. has more radical connotations, and which popular culture has turned into a synonym for “Communist”. This is the sense in which Sanders’ positions differ from Hillary’s.

His ideas have enjoyed a warm reception among young university graduates with less employable degrees, students struggling with the high cost of tuition, women of a certain cultural level, the unemployed, victims of the recession, people who have fallen out of the already shrunken middle class, and those disenchanted with the traditional propaganda of the political parties.

The case of Trump, meanwhile, has roots that go deep, far from the superficiality indicated by the things he says. The billionaire without experience in formal politics sends out a basic message, promising to make the United States “great” again. He plans a series of confrontations abroad, and not only on the economic front. But at the same time, his foreign policy stance is reminiscent of the most extreme form of isolationism that reigned in this country just before the times of crisis and armed conflict that the United States faced in the two world wars.

Trump alludes to a mythical country that actually only exists in the memory of people in the U.S. who are nostalgic about something they themselves never experienced and which is only sustained by high-flying speeches. It is an idyllic, basically Anglo-Protestant America which reluctantly accepted the necessary waves of immigration from the rest of the world. He uses the rhetoric needed to build a national identity in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.

Trump’s simple message focuses on calamities from outside: Companies abroad undermine U.S. industry by producing cheap merchandise that then floods the U.S. market, while undesirable undocumented immigrants steal local jobs. The remedy: high import duties and walls along the border.

As indicated in Sanders’ campaign speeches, the real enemy shared by the voters of Clinton and Trump is the rampant poverty and inequality plaguing what is still the most powerful country on earth. The citizens are losing confidence in the country and they feel let down by the lack of answers from the Washington establishment.

Hillary will have to clearly differentiate her message in the election campaign from these two visions of the United States. Sanders’ is the most grounded in reality; Trump’s is a fantasy. But both are real from an electoral standpoint.

Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Economic Failings Lead to Impeachment of Another Economist in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/economic-failings-lead-to-impeachment-of-another-economist-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-failings-lead-to-impeachment-of-another-economist-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/economic-failings-lead-to-impeachment-of-another-economist-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 12 May 2016 19:41:43 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145100 “I never thought I’d have to fight against a coup d’etat in Brazil again,” said Dilma Rousseff after she was suspended as president on Thursday May 12, before embracing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva outside the government palace. Credit: Ricardo Stuckert/Lula Institute

“I never thought I’d have to fight against a coup d’etat in Brazil again,” said Dilma Rousseff after she was suspended as president on Thursday May 12, before embracing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva outside the government palace. Credit: Ricardo Stuckert/Lula Institute

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 12 2016 (IPS)

Ironically, the only two economists who have served as president of Brazil are also the only ones impeached for economic failures.

Dilma Rousseff, in office since January 2011, was suspended by a vote of 55 to 22 in the Senate on the morning of Thursday, May 12 after a marathon 21-hour session.

The impeachment trial may take up to180 days, during which time Vice President Michel Temer will assume the presidency.

If at least 54 of the 81 senators – a two-thirds majority – vote to remove Rousseff at the end of the trial, Temer will serve as president until Jan. 1, 2019.The impeachment trial is political; the president will be removed if two-thirds of the senators decide that there are grounds for such a move, independently of strictly legal arguments.

Analysts agree that it is highly unlikely that Rousseff, of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), will return to power, after the overwhelming defeats she has suffered – first in the Chamber of Deputies, where 71.5 percent of the lawmakers gave the green light to the impeachment proceedings, and now in the Senate.

The most likely scenario is a repeat of the case of Fernando Collor de Mello, elected president in 1989 and impeached in 1992, after a four-month trial.

But there are many differences between the two cases.

Rousseff is not accused of corruption, but of using creative accounting to hide large budget deficits. And she still has the firm support of a significant minority made up of left-wing parties and social movements capable of mobilising huge public protests.

By contrast, Collor de Mello was completely isolated, supported only by a tiny party created to formalise his candidacy. His impeachment was the result of a virtual consensus.

But there are also similarities. Both economists lost their political base due to reckless management of the economy.

When he took office, Collor de Mello immediately froze people’s bank accounts, to curb hyperinflation, releasing only small amounts for essential household expenses.

In 1990, GDP fell 4.3 percent, while unemployment soared and companies went under. The popularity of Brazil’s youngest president, who was 40 when he took office, took a nosedive. And when a corruption scandal broke out two years later, the conditions for impeachment were in place.

In the case of Rousseff, the decline of the economy took longer. Starting at the end of her first term (2011-2014), the recession turned into full-blown depression, with a 3.8 percent drop in GDP in 2015 and a continued downturn in 2016.

Consumption subsidies, tax cuts to give certain sectors a boost, and artificial caps on fuel and electricity prices are among the anti-inflationary or pro-growth measures that led to disaster, especially in the fiscal area.

Michel Temer signs the official Senate notification of Dilma Rousseff’s suspension, which made him interim president, on Thursday May 12. Credit: Marcos Corrêa/VPR

Michel Temer signs the official Senate notification of Dilma Rousseff’s suspension, which made him interim president, on Thursday May 12. Credit: Marcos Corrêa/VPR

Another thing Collor de Mello and Rousseff have in common is that they misled voters in their campaigns.

Collor de Mello was elected in 1989 after accusing his opponent, trade union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the PT (who was finally elected president in 2003) of preparing to freeze bank accounts – the very measure that Collor de Mello himself adopted on his first day in office.

Rousseff accused her opponents, during her 2014 reelection campaign, of seeking a fiscal adjustment that she herself tried to push through in her second term. And she hid the scope of the government’s deficit problem and announced an expansion of social programmes that was not economically feasible, due to a lack of funds.

These errors helped spawn the movement for her impeachment, the mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad of the PT, acknowledged in a May 6 interview.

The economic crisis was then compounded by the corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company Petrobras. More than 200 members of the business community and politicians have been implicated, including former president Lula and other PT leaders, which has smeared the image of the government, even though Rousseff herself is in the clear.

This backdrop strengthened allegations that Rousseff violated fiscal responsibility laws by signing decrees increasing public spending without authorisation and by obtaining loans to the federal government from state-owned banks, which is illegal.

These two measures would amount to “crimes of responsibility”, which according to the constitution provide grounds for impeachment. And they allegedly aggravated the fiscal deficit, the key factor in the economic crisis.

Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo, who represented Rousseff, and ruling coalition legislators rejected the accusations, arguing that the government decrees merely redistributed funds to other areas and that the government’s delayed payments to the state banks did not constitute illegal loans.

A group of weary senators applaud at the end of the marathon session that decided to immediately suspend President Dilma Rousseff during an impeachment trial for her removal. Credit: Marcos Oliveira/Agência Senado

A group of weary senators applaud at the end of the marathon session that decided to immediately suspend President Dilma Rousseff during an impeachment trial for her removal. Credit: Marcos Oliveira/Agência Senado

Dozens of mayors and state governors, as well as former presidents, have used the same accounting maneuvers without being punished in any way, said Senator Otto Alencar of the Social Democratic Party, a majority of whose members voted against Rousseff.

Whatever the case, the trial is political; the president will be removed if two-thirds of the senators decide that there are grounds for such a move, independently of strictly legal arguments.

In the all-night session, the 78 senators (only three were absent) heard 73 speakers who had up to 15 minutes each to speak before the vote.

The result, which was already a given, was a crucial indicator for the opposition: They managed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to find the president guilty.

However, it is possible that some senators who gave the go-ahead to the impeachment trial will change their position.

At least three senators qualified their votes, clarifying that they were only approving the trial itself because they wanted more in-depth investigations and discussions on presidential responsibility, and that they had not yet decided to vote for Rousseff’s removal.

They included former footballer Romario Faria, a senator for Rio de Janeiro, and Cristovam Buarque, a former governor of Brasilia. They belong to two different socialist parties.

PT senators said there would be a fight, as well as mobilisations to block the “unfair” impeachment. And Rousseff reiterated that she would “fight to the last” against what she called “a coup.”

The vice-president’s rise to president means a heavy concentration of power in the hands of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), which has the largest number of mayors, many state governors, the post of president of the Senate, and now the presidency (interim, for now).

A group of six senators from different parties called for an alternative to the “traumatic” impeachment process: early elections to allow the people to choose their leaders.

Many senators, such as Tasso Jereissati of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and Collor de Mello called for political reform, arguing that “coalition presidentialism” has proven to be the source of crisis and instability.

Rousseff’s impeachment also provides an opportunity to debate reforms in the political system.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/#comments Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144920 Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia.  Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia. Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144892 A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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Eastern Europe’s Claims for UN Chief Questionedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 01:17:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144826 A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

As the campaign for a new UN Secretary-General (UNSG) gathers momentum, there is one lingering question that remains unanswered: does the now-defunct Eastern European political alliance have a legitimate claim for the job on the basis of geographical rotation?

Of the nine candidates in the running, seven are from the former Eastern Europe. All previous secretaries-general have come from the four other regional groups, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and Western Europe and Other States.

But none from Eastern Europe, which exists as a geographical entity only within the precincts of the United Nations.

After the end of the Cold War in 1990-1991, Eastern European nations joined either the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Organisation (NATO), or both.

These include: Bulgaria (joined the EU in 2007), Croatia (2013), Czech Republic (2004), Estonia (2004), Hungary (2004),Latvia  (2004), Lithuania (2004),Poland  (2004), Romania  (2007), Slovakia (2004) and Slovenia (2004).

And four countries awaiting membership in the EU include: Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugolav Republic of Macedonia.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and a one-time candidate for the post of Secretary-General, told IPS the end of the Cold War has transformed Eastern Europe from a political and geographical entity to a purely geographical group.

“Many of the East European countries are in NATO and the EU and their interests are closely linked to Western Europe – although some strains are showing in the wake of economic pressures and the recent migrant waves.

He said the principle of “geographical rotation” with regard to the UNSG position is therefore less strong than the vitally important gender equality criterion.

“The appointment of a competent and qualified woman as SG is therefore essential,” said Dhanapala, who lost out to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nine years ago.

Eastern Europe should rightfully be an integral part of Western European and Other States. But the geographical group continues to exist at the UN purely to claim seats, including as non-permanent members of the Security Council, under the banner of Eastern Europe, according to some diplomats.

At elections for subsidiaries of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last week, Belarus got a seat in the Statistical Commission purely on the basis of its non-existent Eastern European credentials.

So did many others: Estonia in the Commission on the Status of Women; Belarus and Montenegro in the Executive of UN Women; Romania in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Albania and Moldova in the Executive Board of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)/ UN Population Fund (UNFPA)/UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

Since the creation of the UN over 70 years ago, the post of Secretary-General has been held by: Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953); Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961); U. Thant of Burma, now Myanmar (1961-1971); Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981); Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991); Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996); Kofi Annan of Ghana (1997-2006); and Ban Ki-moon of South Korea (2007 through 2016).

The nine candidates for the post of UNSG who made their presentations to delegates recently include: Dr Srgjan Kerim of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Ms Vesna Pusic of the Republic of Croatia; Dr Igor Luksic of Montenegro; Dr Danilo Turk of Slovenia; Ms Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Ms Natalia Gherman of the Republic of Moldova and Vuk Jeremić of Serbia – all from the former Eastern Europe.

The two non-Eastern Europeans who are in the running include Helen Clark of New Zealand and Antonio Guterres of Portugal, the former from a Pacific nation and the latter from Western Europe.

When Clark was asked about Eastern European claims, she told reporters: ”When nominations were called for from Member States, they were called for from all Member States”.

“Already one senior representative from outside Eastern Europe has been nominated (Guterres of Portugal). I anticipate there will be other nominations. I judge it to be an open contest and my hope is that Member States will look at what are the challenges that the Secretary-General’s going to have to lead the organisation forward on and who has the best skills for that job.”

Currently, the strongest claims for the jobs are from women candidates.

Although the UN is one of the strongest advocates of gender empowerment, only three women have so far been elected President of the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

With women comprising half the world’s 7.2 billion people, the move to install a woman is perhaps the most legitimate of the claims.

James Paul, a former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum who monitored the politics of the UN for nearly 19 years, told IPS there is the important question of whether a woman will finally be chosen for the post and the secondary issue of whether the East European bloc will be represented.

As for the longstanding complaints about secrecy, the recently-announced “open process” and “dialogues” with candidates, provide a small step forward in what has always been an outrageously secretive procedure, he said.

“But predictably little attention is directed at the biggest issue of all – a selection still based on the will of a small oligarchic group.”

This year, as in the past, the Secretary General will effectively be chosen by the “P-5,” the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (the US, UK, France, China and Russia), Paul pointed out.

“As in previous years, there will be little reference to the will of all the other countries, the concerns of the world’s people or the pressing leadership needs of the organisation.  Polite conversation in the General Assembly will not stop the P-5 juggernaut,” he argued.

“The P-5, with Washington always in the lead, has a record of choosing weak and compliant candidates for this post – people who will reliably cater to the interests of the powerful and agree to a weak and relatively inactive UN,” said Paul, an onetime writer and consultant on several projects with Human Rights Watch, Oxford University Press and Physicians for Human Rights.

The selections of Secretary General in 2006 and 2011 showed clearly that strong and dynamic candidates are set aside, that poor performance in the job is no barrier to re-election, and that the overwhelming majority of member states – even those sitting on the Security Council – have almost no influence over the outcome, he declared.

“Could this despotic arrangement be changed in favour of a more democratic process and a far better end-result?,” he asked.

Paul said no small-scale, incremental reforms will do.  Excluded governments and ignored citizens will have to say “no” in this round and again five years from now.

“The public is increasingly fed up with those who govern.  The P-5 will not be able to continue their despotism forever.”

But in the meanwhile, can the UN survive as the climate clock ticks towards midnight?, asked Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI) told IPS the Eastern European Group was initially a political alliance supporting the former Soviet Union balancing Western Europe and Other States.

While political lines were scrambled with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed politically expedient to interpret it geographically mainly for balancing purposes, he added.

“Some would push the boundaries around to interpret it in general European terms,” he noted.

Geographical rotation was obviously not essential in electing two Scandinavians successively (Trygve Lee and Hammarskjold), he pointed out.

And a third European, an Irish General Assembly President, was in line when an Asian, U Thant became a surprise candidate, by a practical consensus, initially as “acting” UNSG, said Sanbar who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

When U Thant refused a second term “as a glorified clerk” it was not extended to another Asian. Instead Kurt Waldheim of Austria was elected.

While African diplomats presented Salim Salim of Tanzania to succeed him on geographical grounds, a Latin American Javier Perez de Cuellar was elected in a last minute vote in 1982.

As long as geographical groupings remain, however nominally, Eastern European candidates would naturally stake an obvious claim, said Sanbar.

But qualified women from anywhere in the European continent would have a more credible claim, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Will the UN’s new leader stand for the powerful or the powerless?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/will-the-uns-new-leader-stand-for-the-powerful-or-the-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-uns-new-leader-stand-for-the-powerful-or-the-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/will-the-uns-new-leader-stand-for-the-powerful-or-the-powerless/#comments Thu, 14 Apr 2016 21:59:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144627 Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program is one of four female candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program is one of four female candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2016 (IPS)

After hundreds of questions were posed to nine candidates vying for the role of United Nations Secretary-General this week, a lasting question remains; will the UN’s new leader stand for the powerful or the powerless?

The selection of the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations has been seen as a chance for change within the 70 year old global organisation. Some see 2016 as the time for the first woman to be chosen to lead the global organisation which represents over 7 billion people. Others believe that it is time for the selection process to become more open so that all of the UN’s 193 member states get a say in who is chosen. Historically it has been the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – which have ultimately decided.

The latter concerns were in part addressed this week, with the nine candidates who have so far announced their candidacies answering questions from the UN’s 193 member states, civil society and the media during an open selection process.

Four of the nine candidates are women, also raising hopes on the gender equality front.

Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima told IPS that the next Secretary-General should not only be a woman, but that she should also be a feminist.

“It is time for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations to be a woman,” Byanyima told IPS. “She must also be a feminist, promoting women’s rights and gender equality, she must stand up for the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Byanyima.

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK agreed that the Secretary-General should be a feminist but said that the process should be open to women and men from all countries, adding that she would still love to see a woman selected. “I think that it’s appalling a sign of how bad the process is that we haven’t had good women seriously considered in the past,” said Samarasinghe.

A custom at the United Nations means that it is considered to be Eastern Europe’s turn to provide the next Secretary-General, however Europe is the only continent which is split into more than one group, making this custom open to challenges. Two of the nine candidates so far are from outside Eastern Europe.

Samarasinghe said that she hoped to see more geographically diverse candidates emerge. “It would be massively remiss of states not to put forward a developing (country) candidate,” she said.

Carne Ross, the director of Independent Diplomat told IPS that the nationality or gender of the candidate is not the most important issue. “What really matters most is somebody who’s strong who’s smart and has got the courage and the judgment to stand up to some of the unhealthily dominant powers at the UN,” said Ross.

Ross said that he believes it is still unclear whether the new more open selection process will ultimately result in a better candidate being selected.

However Samarasinghe said that the more open process was important because it reflected on the UN more broadly.

“There is a huge onus on institutions to become more transparent and inclusive,” said Samarasinghe.

You have the UN which goes around the world promoting good governance having this hugely secretive process, so I think that the process is important,” she said.

Samarasinghe said that many member states feel that “the vast majority of states are sidelined” in the selection process and that the more open process may help rebalance this relationship.

Byanyima also called for greater UN reforms, arguing that the UN needed to help the UN meet unprecedented global challenges “be it confronting protracted conflicts and a massive global displacement crisis, or tackling climate change.”

“The UN and its Security Council must undertake much-needed reforms to become more inclusive, accountable, democratic, effective, and reflective of a world in which political and economic power has shifted,” she said.

The current pool of candidates includes former heads of state and government and several current and former high level UN officials with experience working on issues representing the world’s poor and vulnerable, experience also reflected in their answers this week. For example Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program told journalists of her intentions to be a “voice for the voiceless” and Antonio Guterres, of Portugal, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees told journalists of how his experience volunteering with the homeless had inspired his career in politics.

Yet it remains possible that none of the nine candidates who have so far made their campaigns public will ultimately be chosen.

“In the past it was the best strategy for the candidates to hang back and go quietly lobby in the P5 (permanent five members of the Security Council) capitals but this time around I think there is a transparent open process that they cannot ignore,” said Samarasinghe.

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Gender Equality and Equity in Health Will Anchor Drive Towards a Sustainable National Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/gender-equality-and-equity-in-health-will-anchor-drive-towards-a-sustainable-national-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-and-equity-in-health-will-anchor-drive-towards-a-sustainable-national-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/gender-equality-and-equity-in-health-will-anchor-drive-towards-a-sustainable-national-development/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:37:56 +0000 Sicily Kariuki and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144598 Sicily K. Kariuki, (Mrs), CBS is the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Sicily K. Kariuki.  Photo Credit: @UNFPA

Sicily K. Kariuki. Photo Credit: @UNFPA

By Sicily K. Kariuki, CBS and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Last month, the Government of Kenya (GoK) in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the sidelines of the 60th Session of the UN Commission of Women in New York, launched the report on the ‘Assessment of the UNFPA Campaign to End Preventable Maternal and New-born Mortality in support of the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa’

The assessment report by Deloitte Consulting captures the important strides the country has made to significantly address disparities in advancing maternal and new-born health at all levels.

These findings manifests Government’s commitment and determination to address inequalities as envisioned by one of the key principles of Agenda 2030, by ensuring that no one is left behind.

The cornerstone of the Government’s commitment is to strengthen the partnerships between GoK, development partners, and other stakeholders nationally, regionally and globally.

This manifested in March 2015, His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a high-level meeting in Nairobi which engaged religious leaders as key partners in fighting against social and cultural drivers that inhibit women’s empowerment, many of which contribute to their poor sexual and reproductive health.

That advocacy drive by the Government of Kenya and UNFPA has culminated in an innovative project that is now being implemented in six of the forty seven counties with the highest maternal and child deaths.

The program in Kenya’s underserved counties by public and private partners together with UN agencies is a good benchmark in identifying the sub-populations that are not obtaining health care, the reasons for those barriers, and the actions that can be taken to remove them.

The project recognizes that to achieve health equity, gender equality, and fulfil the right to health as guaranteed in the Constitution, it is essential to identify the underlying causes of health inequalities. This calls for a need to look inwards, rather than global indicators. It is only by identifying the disadvantaged or excluded groups, that evidence-based policies, programs and practices can be designed and inequalities tackled effectively.

The focus on 15 counties that bear 98.7% of all maternal deaths in the country was preceded by a survey undertaken by one of Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning -University of Nairobi, which revealed the multiple challenges faced by these communities. These challenges include various historical and cultural reasons that disadvantage the most vulnerable, invariably female, poor, rural and thus voiceless and marginalized.

In short, while national averages are important for monitoring overall progress, it is time to realize that these national indicators do not provide the complete picture. One example should suffice: in 2014, the national female genital mutilation prevalence rate in Kenya dropped to 21% from 27% in 2009. However, in the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- no one can be left behind, focus should remain on the communities where prevalence rate still stands as high as 98%.

The SDGs now emphasize the need for active focus on equity, gender and human rights, specifically Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries and the role of health services in securing national and global peace. There is general consensus that health can serve as a bridge for peace and can have collateral benefits, including nipping in the bud some of the drivers of violent extremism.

It is also apt because some of the counties with high maternal death burden are also prone to internal conflicts, feelings of exclusion and poverty that drive extremism.

Reproductive health complications represent a hideous feedback loop, as they are not only the result of poverty, but also contribute to poverty.

In addressing access to reproductive health matters and gender equality, there is no space for complacency. We are talking about sheer survival not just of the women but of the entire nation. Healthier women mean healthier children and that means thriving societies.

As the UNDP Administrator, Ms Helen Clark remarked, “Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies.” A good place to begin is empowering Kenya’s youth, especially girls. The multiplier effect of girls’ education on several aspects of development is now well documented. Education reduces high fertility rates, lowers infant and child mortality rates, lowers maternal mortality rates and increases labour force participation.

Empowering, educating and employing Kenya’s women and girls will launch our economy to new heights and ensure Kenya reaps a demographic dividend. His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stressed that “Progress for women is progress for all …….”

For development to be sustainable and resilient, it must be inclusive and equitable, given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must and not an option.

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