Inter Press Service » Women’s Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 22 Feb 2017 20:13:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Aging, Depression and Disease in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 15:47:04 +0000 Manoj K. Pandey - and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149029 Manoj K. Pandey is Lecturer in Economics, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.]]> The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

By Manoj K. Pandey, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
Canberra, Philadelphia and Manchester, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Old age is often characterised by poor health due to isolation, morbidities and disabilities in carrying out activities of daily living (DADLs) leading to depression.

Mental disorders—in different forms and intensities— affect most of the population in their lifetime. In most cases, people experiencing mild episodes of depression or anxiety deal with them without disrupting their productive activities. A substantial minority of the population, however, experiences more disabling conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder type I, severe recurrent depression, and severe personality disorders. While common mild disorders are amenable to self-management and relatively simple educational or support measures, severe mental illness demands complex, multi-level care that involves a longer-term engagement with the individual, and with the family. Yet, despite the considerable burden and its associated adverse human, economic, and social effects, governments and donors have failed to prioritise treatment and care of people with mental illness. Indeed, pervasive stigma and discrimination contributes to the imbalance between the burden of disease due to mental disorders, and the attention these conditions receive.

The percentage of the population aged 60 years and above in South Africa rose from 7.1% in 1996 to 8 % in 2011, an increase from 2.8 million to 4.1 million individuals. The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 because of (i) a marked decline in fertility in the past few decades; (ii) the HIV and AIDS pandemic contributing to this change in the population structure, with a higher mortality of young adults, especially women of reproductive age; and (iii) a rise in life expectancy to 62 years in 2013-– a staggering increase of 8.5 years since the low in 2005.

Four in ten elderly persons in South Africa are poor. More than a third make an average living, and the rich constitute about 27%. Provincial variations show that rural provinces have higher proportions of poor elderly persons compared to those residing in the urban provinces. Racial differences show that elderly Whites and Indians/Asians occupied a higher socio-economic status than black Africans and Coloureds.

Ours is the first study that offers a comprehensive analysis of depression among the old (60+ years) in South Africa, using the four waves of the National Income Dynamics Study (SA-NIDS) (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014).

A self-reported measure of depression is used. SA-NIDS gives data on not depressed in a week, depressed for 1-2 days, 3-4 days and 5-7 days. We focus on those depressed for ≥ 3 days in a week. Referring to this as a measure of severe depression, its prevalence reduced from 15.3 % among the old in 2008 to 14.5 % in 2014, with a dip to 12.6 % in 2012.

Aging is a major factor in depression. Those in early 60s are generally more depressed than older persons in their 70s and 80s.

Old women were consistently more depressed than old men, as they are subject to violence. It is associated with conflicts over the man’s drinking, the woman having more than one partner, and her not having post-school education. Another factor is that women are typically much more likely to be overweight and obese, leading to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and subsequently higher depression . A challenging aspect of obesity prevention among black South Africans is the positive perception that both women and men attach to a large body size.

Married men and women are less depressed than others. Marriage thus serves as a barrier to loneliness and a source of support during periods of stress for old persons. However, old persons in larger households without any other old person are more prone to depression. It is not clear whether larger households result in neglect of old persons or their abuse.

Ethnicity matters. The Africans are more prone to depression than the reference group of the Whites and Coloureds. There is limited evidence suggesting that Asians/Indians/Others are less likely to be depressed.

Pensioners are less likely to be depressed despite some evidence in the literature on pooling of pensions with other household resources and denying the pensioner any financial autonomy. Although this can’t be ruled out, it is evident that the favourable effect of pensions in preventing depression is robust.

Of particular significance are the results on multimorbidity (more than one disease at a time). Two combinations of NCDs (diabetes and high BP, and cancer and heart disease) are positively associated with depression. Equally important are the associations between disabilities in activities of daily living or DADLs (e.g. difficulties in dressing,bathing, eating, walking, climbing stairs) and depression. In many cases, both sets of DADLs are positively associated with depression. The relationship between depression and body mass index or BMI categories (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) is not so robust except that in some cases overweight were less likely to be depressed than the reference category of obese.

Shock of a family member’s death (in the last 24 months) was robustly linked to higher incidence of depression. There is some evidence suggesting that this shock had stronger effects on women relative to men.

As loneliness and lack of support during a difficult situation can precipitate stress leading to depression, we experimented with measures of social capital and trust as barriers to depression, and the mediating role of preference for the same neighbourhood.

Although social capital doesn’t have a significant negative effect on depression, social trust does. Besides, the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood is confirmed in most cases. An exceptional case is that of the Africans for whom neither social capital nor social trust is of any consequence except the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood.

The burden of depression in terms of shares of depressed in total depressed has risen in the more affluent wealth quartiles-especially that of the most affluent. However, likelihood of depression remained lower among the third and fourth quartiles, implying that the likelihood of depression was higher in the poorest (or the least wealthy). It is somewhat surprising that despite marked inequalities even among the Africans, there is no wealth effect on depression.

Although older people are in worse health than those younger, older people use health services much less frequently. These patterns of utilization arise from barriers to access, a lack of appropriate services and the prioritization of services towards the acute needs of younger people.

A larger ethical issue is rationing of health care to older people on the notion that health services are scarce and must be allocated to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. WHO 2015 rejects this view on two counter-arguments: older people have made the greatest contribution to socioeconomic development that created these services; and they are entitled to live a dignified and healthy life.

Mental health care continues to be under-funded and under-resourced compared to other health priorities in the country; despite the fact that neuropsychiatric disorders are ranked third in their contribution to the burden of disease in South Africa, after HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In fact, mental health care is usually confined to management of medication for those with severe mental disorders, and does not include detection and treatment of other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

From this perspective, the proposed National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 is a bold and comprehensive initiative.

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Improved Cookstoves Boost Health and Forest Cover in the Himalayashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 11:13:23 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148986 Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
DARJEELING, India, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

Mountain communities in the Himalayan region are almost entirely dependent on forests for firewood even though this practice has been identified as one of the most significant causes of forest decline and a major source of indoor air pollution.

Improper burning of fuels such as firewood in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous  air pollutants, whereas collection of firewood and cooking on traditional stoves consumes a lot of time, especially for women.

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die globally each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution. Women and children are said to be at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows that 142 million rural households in the country depend entirely on fuels such as firewood and cow dung for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidies by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, which compels them to opt for traditional and more harmful substances.

This has prompted environmental organisations like Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) to help mountain communities minimise the health and environmental risks involved in using firewood for cooking in confined places.

IPS spoke with the Regional Director of ATREE for northeast India, Sarala Khaling, who oversees the Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) project being run by the organisation in Darjeeling, Himalayas. Excerpts from the interview follow.

The Improved Cooking Stove (ICS) keeps this kitchen in India’s Himalaya region smoke-free. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

The Improved Cooking Stove (ICS) keeps this kitchen in India’s Himalaya region smoke-free. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

IPS: What prompted you to start the ICS programme in the Darjeeling Himalayan region?    

Sarala Khaling: In many remote forest regions of Darjeeling we conducted a survey and found out that people rely on firewood because it is the only cheap source in comparison to LPG, kerosene and electricity. Our survey result found that around Singhalila National Park and Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, the mean fuel wood consumption was found to be 23.56 kgs per household per day.

Therefore, we thought of providing technological support to these people for minimizing forest degradation and indoor pollution which is hazardous to human health and contributes to global warming as well. That is how we started replacing the traditional cooking stoves with the improved cooking stoves, which consume far less fuel wood besides reducing the pollution.

IPS: How many ICS have you installed so far?  

SK: Till now ATREE has installed 668 units of ICS in different villages of Darjeeling. After the installation of ICS, we conducted another survey and the results showed reduction of fuel wood consumption by 40 to 50 per cent and also saved 10 to 15 minutes of time while cooking apart from keeping the kitchens free of smoke and air pollution.

We have trained more than 200 community members and have selected “ICS Promoters” from these so that we can set up a micro-enterprise on this. There are eight models of ICS for different target groups such as those cooking for family, cooking for livestock and commercial models that cater to hostels, hotels and schools.

IPS: When did the project begin? 

SK: We have been working on efficient energy since 2012. This technology was adopted from the adjacent area of Nepal, from the Ilam district. All the models we have adopted are from the Nepalese organization Namsaling Community Development Centre, Ilam. This is because of the cultural as well as climatic similarities of the region. Kitchen and adoption of the type of “chulah” or stove has a lot to do with culture. And unless the models are made appropriate to the local culture, communities will not accept such technologies.

IPS: Who are the beneficiaries?

SK: Beneficiaries are local communities from 30 villages we work in as these people are entirely dependent on the fuel wood and live in the forest fringes.

IPS: What are the health benefits of using ICS? For example, what can be the health benefits for women and children? 

SK: Women spend the most time in the kitchen, which means young children who are dependent on the mothers also spend a large part of their time in the kitchen. The smokeless environment in the kitchen definitely must be having a positive effect on health, especially respiratory conditions. Also the kitchen is cleaner and so are the utensils. And then using less fuel wood means women spend lesser time collecting them thus saving themselves the drudgery.

IPS: What is the feedback from the beneficiaries? 

SK: The feedback has been positive from people who have adopted this technology. They say that ICS takes less fuel wood and it gives them a lot of comfort to cook in a smoke free environment. Women told us that their kitchens are looking cleaner as so also the utensils.

IPS: How much it costs to have a clean stove? And can a household get it on its own? 

SK:  It costs around INR 2500 (37 dollars) to make a stove. ATREE supports only the labour charges for making a unit. Of course we support all the training, mobilising, monitoring and outreach and extension. Yes, there are many houses outside of our project sites who have also adopted this technology. The material used for making the clean stove is made locally like bricks, cow dung, salt, molasses and some pieces of iron.

IPS: Since you say that you are training local people to make these stoves, do you have any target how many households you want to cover in a certain time-period? 

SK:  We are looking to provide 1200 units to as many households. But, depending on the uptake, we will scale up. Our main objective is to make this sustainable and not something that is handed out as free. Our model is to select community members and train them.

We want these trained community members become resource persons and organise themselves into a micro-enterprise of ICS promoters. We want these people to sell their skills to more and more villages because we believe people will pay to make and adopt this technology. We are noticing that this has already started happening.

IPS: Have you provided this technology to any hostels, hotels etc?

SK: Yes, government schools who have the midday meal systems have also adopted this. There are about half a dozen schools which are using ICS and we are mobilizing more to adopt this technology.

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Female Genital Mutilation is a Gruesome Impediment to the Empowerment of Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/female-genital-mutilation-is-a-gruesome-impediment-to-the-empowerment-of-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-genital-mutilation-is-a-gruesome-impediment-to-the-empowerment-of-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/female-genital-mutilation-is-a-gruesome-impediment-to-the-empowerment-of-women/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 12:10:12 +0000 Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148836 In a significant shift from tradition, Maasai elders in Loitoktok, in Kenya’s Kajiado County, girls are choosingto forgo traditional FGM as a rite of initiation into womanhood. Photo Credit: Amref Africa

In a significant shift from tradition, Maasai elders in Loitoktok, in Kenya’s Kajiado County, girls are choosingto forgo traditional FGM as a rite of initiation into womanhood. Photo Credit: Amref Africa

By Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

On 06 February 2017, the world marks the 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  

Consider this, approximately 200 million girls and women alive today globally, have undergone some form of FGM.

One cannot but despair at the indolent pace towards elimination of one of the most brutal cultural norms, a practice that continues to hold women and a Nation’s development back.

While Kenya must be applauded for having brought down the national FGM prevalence from 32 percent to 21 percent in the last 12 years, there are still some communities where about nine in ten girls are mutilated, often forced to leave school and into early marriage.

An often-unnoticed reality is that the effects of FGM go far beyond the negative physical and psychosocial consequences. The social and economic damage done to entire countries has only started to be realised.

The origins of practices such as FGM and their continuation over millennia are traced to man’s objective of subjugating women.  Alas, the dire consequences of such practices are affecting the entire population, including those in non-practicing communities.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognized the close connection between FGM, gender inequality and development, urging global action to end FGM by 2030.

FGM ranks as one of the worst manifestation of gender inequality. Last year, UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report estimated that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa six percent of its GDP leading to around US$ 95 billion in lost revenue.

The Government of Kenya is demonstrating commendable determination to eliminate the practice. Increased resources to the national Anti-FGM Board have resulted in good progress towards implementing the Prohibition of the FGM Act and tangible strides are being made to find alternative rites of passage.

Approximately 200 million girls and women alive today globally, have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
From a medical point of view, FGM causes severe health problems as well as complications in childbirth increasing risks of newborn deaths. Adolescent girls are far more likely to die from childbirth-related complications and face greater risks of getting obstetric fistula, which is the most devastating of all childbirth related injuries. They are also at higher risk of contracting HIV.

While education is arguably the best solution for ensuring women and girls gain equal access to political and socio-economic power in society, FGM makes this impossible because very often for the girls, post-mutilation, is end of schooling, early marriage, and denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  This is a sure recipe for perpetuation of poverty, misery and inequality in society. We therefore must seek alternative rites of passage to broaden opportunities for girls while recognizing this important milestone.

For the thousands of girls to whom every school holiday comes as a choice between running from home and facing a gruesome, dream-crushing ritual, the country must accelerate the search for lasting solutions.

To make real progress, this battle must not be seen as just a confrontation against a harmful cultural practice, but as an all-encompassing effort to address the political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement.

Programmes must include addressing the gaps between legal provisions and practice in gender laws; transforming discriminatory institutional settings and securing women’s economic, social and political participation.

Gains in reducing gender inequality will be defined by more women finishing secondary school, more of them in the formal workplace, more women entrepreneurs accessing credit and more of them contributing in political as well as social decision-making processes.

During a visit to Kenya, former US President Barack Obama observed, just because something is part of our past doesn’t mean it defines our future.  The progress towards Kenya’s Vision 2030 and beyond must include dealing with harmful traditional practices and other scourges that have held back women from progressing.

The UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres has said, “Sustainable development demands full human rights for all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to an end to this practice by 2030.”

In the countdown to the realisation of SDGs and Vision 2030, Kenya must decide that FGM and gender related discrimination practices cannot stand in the way of progress any longer. The good news is; Kenya is making remarkable progress.

Ruth Kagia is a senior advisor in the office of the President of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:49:02 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148665 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/feed/ 1 A Crisis of Overweight and Obesity in Latin America and the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:41:44 +0000 Eve Crowley http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148626 The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

By Eve Crowley
SANTIAGO, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Obesity and overweight have spread like a wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, threatening the health, well-being and food and nutritional security of millions of people.

According to the new publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security, close to 58 percent of the inhabitants of the region are overweight (360 million people) while obesity affects 140 million people, 23 percent of the regional population.

In almost all countries of the region, overweight affects at least half the population, with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas (69 percent), Mexico (64 percent) and Chile (63 percent).

Over the last 20 years there has been a rapid increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity across the population, regardless of their economic, ethnic or place of residence, although the risk is higher in net food-importing regions and countries, which consume more ultra-processed foods.

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

This situation is particularly serious for women, since in more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity is 10  percentage points higher than that of men. The impact has also been considerable in children: 3.9 million children under 5 live with overweight in our region, 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200 000 in the Caribbean.

How did we get here? According to FAO and PAHO, a key factor has been the change in the region’s eating habits.

Economic growth in recent decades, increased urbanization, higher average income and the integration of the region into international markets reduced the consumption of traditional preparations based on cereals, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and increased consumption of ultra-processed products, with high amounts of sugars, salt and fats.

To curb the rise in overweight and obesity, countries in the region can draw on some of the valuable experiences they gained in their fight against hunger. Today, undernourishment affects only 5.5 percent of the regional population, while stunting in children has also dropped from 24.5 percent in 1990 to 11.3 percent in 2015, a reduction of 7.8 million children.

However, it should be noted that although hunger has declined, it has not been eradicated: there are still 34 million people unable to access the food they require for a healthy and active life, which means that the region faces a double burden of malnutrition.

According to the FAO / PAHO Panorama, combating both malnutrition and obesity requires a healthy diet that includes fresh, healthy, nutritious and sustainably produced foods. The key to progress is to promote sustainable food systems that link agriculture, food, nutrition and health.

In order to eradicate all forms of malnutrition, States should encourage the sustainable production of fresh, safe and nutritious foods as well as ensuring their diversity, supply and access, especially for the most vulnerable in regions that are net importers of foods.

These measures should be complemented with policies to strengthen family farming, short production and food marketing circuits, public procurement systems linked to healthy school feeding programs and nutritional education programs.

Fiscal measures should also be implemented to discourage the consumption of junk food, improve food labeling and warnings with regard to high sugar, fat and salt content, and regulate the advertising of unhealthy foods to reduce their consumption.

These policies are more urgent than ever in light of the current signs of stagnation in regional economic growth, which pose a significant risk to food and nutrition security.

Governments should maintain and increase their support to the most vulnerable to avoid undoing their advances in the fight against hunger and to reverse the current rise in obesity and overweight, working together through initiatives such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’s Plan for Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication.

Although there are significant variations according to subregions and countries, Latin America and the Caribbean considered as a whole has a food availability that far surpasses the requirements of all its population, thanks to its great agricultural performance. However, in several countries, this process of agricultural development is currently unsustainable, due to the consequences it is having on the ecosystems of the region. The sustainability of food supply and its future diversity are under threat unless we change the way we do things.

The region must make more efficient and sustainable use of land and other natural resources. Countries must improve their techniques of food production, storage and processing, and put a stop to food losses and waste, as 127 million tons of food end up in the trash every year in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and especially SDG2 / Zero Hunger, which aims to eradicate undernourishment by 2030, the region needs to act on the complex interactions between food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health, to build a hunger and malnutrition free Latin America and the Caribbean.

The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is not a task that can be left to the indifferent hand of the market. On the contrary, governments must exercise their will and sovereignty to develop specific public policies that attack the conditions that perpetuate hunger, overweight and obesity, as well as their consequences on the health of adults and children. Only by turning the fight against malnutrition into State policy can we put a stop to the rise of malnutrition in the region.

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A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family Planning in the Philippines: Stalled Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 20:25:47 +0000 Barry Mirkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148339 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again/feed/ 0 Ending AIDS Needs Both Prevention and a Curehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/ending-aids-needs-both-prevention-and-a-cure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-aids-needs-both-prevention-and-a-cure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/ending-aids-needs-both-prevention-and-a-cure/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:13:43 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148030 A poster about stigma in a HIV testing lab in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

A poster about stigma in a HIV testing lab in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Eighteen million people, just slightly under half of the people living with HIV and AIDS globally, are now taking life-saving medication, but global efforts to end the disease still largely depend on prevention.

While efforts to expand antiretroviral treatment have been relatively successfully, prevention efforts have been more mixed.

With the help of treatment, mother to baby transmission has dropped significantly. Transmission between adults aged 30 and over has also dropped.

However, transmission rates among adolescents have risen, causing concern, particularly about the high number of new cases among young women between the ages of 15 to 24.

According to UNAIDS, a new report published last week, “shows that the ages between 15 and 24 years are an incredibly dangerous time for young women.”

The report included data from six studies in Southern Africa, which showed that “southern Africa girls aged between 15 and 19 years accounted for 90% of all new HIV infections among 10 to 19-year-olds.”

“Young women are facing a triple threat,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé. “They are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment. The world is failing young women and we urgently need to do more.”

The report also noted the countries that have increased their domestic funding for HIV prevention, “including Namibia, which has committed to investing 30% of its HIV budget in preventing HIV among adults and children.”

“Of course we all hope that this is a bi-partisan consensus but the fact that we, the U.S. government, continue to pay directly for service delivery in some countries is a huge risk,” -- Amanda Glassman

Ensuring the continued and renewed domestic and international funding for both treatment and prevention was the subject of discussion at the Center for Global Development in Washington D.C. on Monday.

The event, held ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December, focused on a U.S. government initiative aimed at involving government finance departments, as well as health departments, in the HIV response.

Currently over 55 percent of the HIV response in low and middle-income countries comes from the governments of low and middle income countries.

However a significant amount of international support, roughly one third overall funding, comes from the U.S. government, which has made tackling HIV and AIDS a priority through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

However while U.S. funding for the HIV and AIDS response is considered bipartisan HIV and AIDS support, like any U.S. government program may change under Presidency of Donald Trump.

IPS spoke to Amanda Glassman, Vice President for Programs and Director of Global Health Policy at the Center for Global Development after the event:

“Of course we all hope that this is a bi-partisan consensus but the fact that we, the U.S. government, continue to pay directly for service delivery in some countries is a huge risk,” she said. “On the one hand I think maybe it makes it harder to cut, but on the other hand if it does get cut it’s a disaster.”

Of the 18 million people currently on antiretroviral treatment globally, “4.5 million are receiving direct support,” from the U.S. while an additional 3.2 million are receiving indirect support through partner countries.

While there remains broad consensus over treatment, prevention efforts are considered more politically contentious.

Previous Republican administrations have supported abstinence programs, which studies have shown to be ineffective at preventing HIV transmission.

Glassman noted that while there is more political consensus over treatment programs “you need prevention really to finish this.”

However she noted one positive example from incoming Vice-President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.

“(Pence) actually eliminated (needle exchange) programs and then saw HIV / AIDS go up and so he reversed his position, so I think that sounds good, he listens to evidence and action,” said Glassman.

However Pence’s record on women’s reproductive rights and his reported comments that in 2002 that condoms are too “modern” and “liberal”, may not bode well for overall prevention efforts, especially considering that addressing higher transmission rates among adolescent girls also requires addressing gender inequality and sexual violence. Update: In 2000, Pence’s campaign website also said that a US government HIV/AIDS program should direct resources “toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” a statement many have interpreted as support for gay-conversion therapy.

Reducing the high rates of transmission among adolescent girls will not be easy. It involves increasing girls economic independence as well as helping them to stay in school longer.

“It’s a discussion of investment in secondary school … so the discussion is bigger than health,” said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Deborah Birx at the event.

This is one of the reasons why involving government finance departments is important.

However finding additional funds for both education and health in the “hardest hit countries” will not be easy, said Glassman.

“(These countries) are coming in with growth projections that are much lower, they have pretty low tax yields meaning that the amount that they get from their tax base is pretty low.”

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Debate Roils India Over Family Planning Methodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:34:55 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148002 A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

The Indian government’s decision to make injectable contraceptives available to the public for free under the national family planning programme (FPP) has stirred debate about women’s choices in the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country.

The controversial contraceptive containing the drug Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DPMA) is currently being introduced at the primary and district level. It is delivered in the form of an injection and works by thickening the mucous in a woman’s cervix which stops sperm from reaching the egg, thereby preventing pregnancy. It is also much cheaper than other forms of contraceptives available across the country.

Injectables have been part of family planning programs in many countries for the last two decades. They have also been available in the private sector in India since the early 1990s though not through government outlets. Advocates of injectable contraceptives say that their inclusion in the government’s programme will now offer women more autonomy and choice while simultaneously whittling down the country’s disquieting maternal mortality rate (MMR).

Nearly five women die every hour in India from medical complications developed during childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 45,000 mothers die due to causes related to childbirth every year in India, which accounts for 17 percent of such deaths globally, according to the global health body. The use of injectable contraceptives is also backed by the WHO, which has considered the overall quality of the drug with evidence along with the benefits of preventing unintended pregnancy.

However, Indian civil society seems splintered on the issue. Several bodies like the Population Foundation of India and Family Planning Association of India support the government’s move. The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), an apex body of gynaecologists and obstetrics in the country, is also supportive of their use based on scientific evidence.

However, women right activists have opposed the initiative as a part of the national programme. They point to a report by the country’s premier pharmaceutical body — Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) — which has noted that DPMA causes bone loss. The report emphasizes that the osteoporotic effects of the injection worsen the longer the drug is administered and may remain long after the injections are stopped, and may even be irreversible. The DTAB had advised that the drug should not be included in the FPP until discussed threadbare with the country’s leading gynaecologists.

Several health groups, women’s organizations and peoples’ networks have also issued a joint statement protesting the approval of the injectable contraceptive. As far back as 1986, Indian women’s groups had approached the Supreme Court regarding serious problems with injectable contraceptives. based on a study by the country’s premier medical research organization — the Indian Council of Medical Research

Advocates of women’s health and reproductive rights add that the contraceptive is harmful to women as it leads to menstrual irregularity, amenorrhea, and demineralization of bones as a result of its long term use. Users have also reported weight gain, headaches, dizziness, abdominal bloating as well as decreased sex drive, and loss of bone density. The latest evidence from Africa now shows that the risk of acquiring HIV infection enhances because the couple is less likely to use a condom or any other form of contraception to minimise infection.

However, experts iterate that the real issue isn’t just about women’s health but about a human rights-based approach to family planning.

“Why should we control women’s access to choice? Is it not time to re-examine the issue and initiate a fresh debate?’’ asks Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, who has opposed the introduction of DMPA.

Others say that while they are all for enlarging the basket of choices for women, and empowering them, pushing invasive hormone-based technology upon them is hardly the way to go about it. Besides, with the incidents of arthritis and Vitamin D deficiency in India already worrisome, demineralization of bones caused by DPMA will make matters a lot worse.

The total Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) in India among married women is estimated at 54.8 percent with 48.2 percent women using modern methods. This is comparatively lower than neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka whose CPR stands at 65.6 percent, 61.2 percent and 68.4 percent, respectively.

In India, the primary method of family planning is female sterilization – at 65.7 percent, which is among the highest in the world. One of the key reasons for this is the limited availability of a wide range of contraceptive methods in the public health sector in the country, say family planning experts. Some fear that the new method might also result in poor women being used as guinea pigs for public healthcare.

“Women’s reproductive health has always been contentious and has had a fraught history, plagued by issues of ethics, consent, and the entrenched vested interests of global pharma companies and developed nations,” says Mukta Prabha, a volunteer with Women Power Connect, a pan-India women’s rights organization. “So we need to tread with caution on DPMA so that women can make informed choices and their health isn’t compromised.”

Indian women suffer from a host of problems associated with unwanted pregnancies from unsafe abortions to maternal mortality and life-long morbidity. The paucity of trained medical personnel in the public health system adds to their woes.. Besides, India has always had a troubled history of sterilisation. In 2014, over a dozen women died as the result of contaminated equipment in a sterilisation camp in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

The resulting media uproar pressured the government to re-examine its policies and its long-held dependence on sterilisation. But in 2015-16 again there were 110 deaths due to botched sterilisation procedures. Given the high infant mortality rate, many women are wary of sterilisation. They also feel it restricts their choice of having children later if required. Despite this, over 1.4 m Indian women were sterilised in 2014 as against 5,004 men.

Worse, the controversial DPMA — which is aimed only at women — isn’t gender sensitive either. What should be pushed instead, say women activists, is male sterilisation which is a far simpler and minimally invasive procedure which also minimizes health risks for women.

As Prabha puts it, “Indian men’s participation in family planning has always been dismal even though they’re the ones who determine the number of children a women has. The current debate is a good opportunity to involve the men in the exercise and set right the gender skew.”

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The Perils of Writing about Toilets in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india/#comments Sun, 06 Nov 2016 03:02:38 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147650 Paul interviews Dalit women in Hamirpur - a district in Northern India. All of these women have been abandoned by their husbands who fled to escape drought. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS.

Paul interviews Dalit women in Hamirpur - a district in Northern India. All of these women have been abandoned by their husbands who fled to escape drought. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Nov 6 2016 (IPS)

Journalist Stella Paul was midway through an interview about toilets when she found herself, and the women she was speaking to, under attack from four angry men.

“This man, he comes and he just grabs this woman by her hair and he starts dragging her on the ground and kicking her at the same time,” Paul told IPS.

She remembers thinking, “what is happening,” as another three men followed, beating the women, including Paul who was hit in the face.

“They are blindly just beating this woman.”

“Why? Because how dare you talk about getting a toilet when you are untouchable, you are Dalit.”

The attack took place while Paul – a 2016 recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and IPS contributor – was researching a story about women forced into dual slavery in illegal mines in South-East, India.

The women Paul was interviewing had been forced to work unpaid in the mines, but were trying to escape, some of them were attending school, and they had now found out they were potentially going to have their own toilet under a government sanitation scheme.

“They employ the poorest of the people, and they bring in a lot of women that are from the untouchable section – Dalit – and the extremely marginalised classes in India.”

“It was revealed that the whole industry was illegal – no license taken from the government – and they were taking out iron ore and selling it to China.”

“The whole day they force them to work in the mine and at night they force themselves on these women, they force them to serve them sexually.”

“So it’s dual slavery, they don’t get paid, and they have to allow these men to sleep with them, and their daughters.”

Paul, who comes from North-Eastern India, travels her home country talking to some of the poorest people in India and unearthing stories of unbelievable exploitation and corruption in places where other journalists often think not to look.

She often spends her time listening to the stories of untouchables – people who other Indians don’t consider worthy of having opinions.

“When you are untouchables your life is no better than a dog’s life. Your job is to go there and defecate in the open, because that is how you have always done and that is how you will always do.”

“Honestly I don’t feel anybody will tell these stories of these women of dual slavery, of (the) little changes that they are making in the face of huge threats.”

“I don’t see these stories anywhere, I don’t think anybody will tell them and how can I not tell their stories? So that’s my choice to go there and tell it.”

But Paul believes that although her kind of journalism often comes with little recognition she is also constantly rewarded.

“Once you start going there, meeting these people you can never become a bitter cynical skeptical person who will look down on poor people,” she says.

Listening to these stories has helped her grow in empathy and become a better person, she says.

“That is the best bonus of being a journalist, that there is this huge growth potential, internal growth.”

Yet by listening to the disenfranchised, Paul often finds herself getting into trouble, as was the case when her interviews with the women about toilets uncovered local corruption.

Paul with forest women she interviewed in Anantagiri, Inida about solar energy. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Paul with forest women she interviewed in Anantagiri, Inida about solar energy. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

“It was a positive story on how a section of these women are now coming out of (slavery).”

“I was there in a village and there was a group of women (telling me) they have started going to school … they are going to rebuild their lives.”

Yet by daring to talk about having their own toilets the women had stepped into dangerous territory.

The government of India had allotted funds to the state as part of an anti-defecation drive.

More than 500 million people in India, almost half of the total population, still defecate in the open. According to UNICEF open defecation is a serious threat to public health and an underlying reason why 188,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year in India.

“There is a lot of money that is coming in and these men, the local government, they are actually stealing this money,” said Paul.

This is why the women talking to Paul about toilets was met with violence.

After getting punched again while rescuing a girl she had asked to take photos for her, Paul marched straight to the office of a senior local official.

But the commissioner sat behind a transparent window clearly unoccupied while his receptionist told Paul he was too busy to see her.

Paul didn’t give up, returning the next day.

“We finally got to meet him, but what I wanted was not to complain about what happened to me but to interview him about … the sanitation project because I wanted to get my story first.” she said.

The commissioner pretended not to understand Paul’s English or Hindi.

“Finally he gave me one sentence and I could complete my story.”

Paul herself comes from a part of India officially designated as a “disturbed region.”

“My home province is in the North Eastern part of India, which borders China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.”

“The army has a special power act and under a law they are legally authorised to go and take special action against people there.”

“Therefore security forces (can go) to anybody’s home without a warrant at any time of the night or the day.”

“There is rampant gender violence there committed by the army.”

“Very few male reporters actually report that – it’s the women reporters who report these things.”

Paul says that even in apparently peaceful parts of India, gender violence “is rampant” and “women reporters are specifically targeted.”

“A guy reporter never has to worry about being touched inappropriately, groped, assaulted, molested or raped.”

She says that reporting on development issues like gender violence or gender inequality is difficult because a lot of people, including government officials, don’t believe these issues are important.

“Without these issues being solved there is no real progress, no real development so we have to report on them, but then there are people who believe that these issues do not matter which makes you feel very lonely.”

Paul herself almost did not survive childhood because she was born a girl. When she was 2 years old, and sick with diptheria, part of her family did not see it as worth treating her, because she was a girl. She survived because her mother fought to save her.

Preference for male sons has led to a ratio of 919 girls to every 1000 boys in India, according to the 2011 census.

Paul has gone on to write about infanticide for IPS.

Courage in journalism often focuses on reporting on war zones, but reporting on gender violence is also a form of war reporting, Chi Yvonne Leina, a journalist from Cameroon and Africa Lead at World Pulse told IPS.

“Violence against women is the longest most continuous and the most dangerous war we are having on earth.”

“Stories like what (Stella) tells – people don’t necessarily know until they dig through in the community,” said Leina.

But this digging can lead to negative reactions, says Leina.

“When you are attacking a culture, you are alone… when soldiers go to war they are going in numbers but when you as a reporter are in face of a culture coming against the culture alone, you are alone against a whole community.”

“Anything can happen and maybe you can disappear, where I come from journalists disappear, they don’t die they disappear.”

Paul has received threats both anonymous and to her face that she too will be made to disappear. While reporting on brick kilns using child labour in her home state a man grabbed her phone and threw it in the river.

“He said: ‘do you see that phone it didn’t take seconds to disappear in the river we make people disappear just like that,’ and then he was snapping his fingers,” Paul described.

Paul is one of three 2016 recipients of the Courage in Journalism Award, alongside Janine di Giovanni, Middle East Editor of Newsweek and Mabel Cáceres Editor-in-chief of El Búho Magazine.

The awards were presented at ceremonies held in New York and Los Angeles in late October. Reeyot Alemu, of Ethiopia the 2012 recipient of the award was also honoured at the ceremony – she was previously unable to attend after being jailed for 1963 days.

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Wonder Woman: Not the Hero the UN Needshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/wonder-woman-not-the-hero-the-un-needs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wonder-woman-not-the-hero-the-un-needs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/wonder-woman-not-the-hero-the-un-needs/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2016 17:53:55 +0000 Sanam Naraghi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147604

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

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

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

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

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

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

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

In choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.” The Nobel Committee further asserted that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognition that women need to be at the peace tables to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace, I believe, made the passage of 1325 an impressive step forward for women’s equality agenda in contemporary security politics. The slogan of the Global Campaign on Women, Peace and Security which we launched in London in June 2014 reiterates “If we are serious about peace, we must take women seriously”. Of course, achieving real gender equality requires “transformative change.” In this conceptual reorientation, the politics of gender relations and restructuring of institutions, rather than simply equality in access to resources and options, should become the priority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1325 is a “common heritage of humanity” wherein the global objectives of peace, equality and development are reflected in a uniquely historic, universal document of the United Nations. As we look ahead, what is called for is an ever-growing global movement involving more and more women and, of course, men.

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

* Today the total stands at only 63

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Who Should Lead the WHO Next?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/who-should-lead-the-who-next/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-should-lead-the-who-next http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/who-should-lead-the-who-next/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:15:28 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147499 Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Health problems increasingly transcend the borders of the World Health Organization’s 194 member states, a challenge which the six candidates vying to lead the global body must address with care.

Those 194 member states will pick the next Director-General of the world’s peak health body in May 2017, after the current six candidates are whittled down by the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board in January.

The ninth Director-General of the world’s peak health body will play a key role in ensuring global responses to an increasingly complex and contrasting list of global health problems: the spread of mosquito borne diseases due to climate change, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, the unfinished business of AIDS and HIV, air pollution, domestic violence, the global rise in noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes as well as the inevitable emergence of the next Ebola-like pathogen.

She, or he, will need to navigate a delicate balance between serving each of the global body’s member states while also ensuring that the world’s only global health body is greater than the sum of its parts.

The candidates: 
- Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, public health expert and former minister of Health and Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia; 
- Dr Flavia Bustreo of Italy, currently WHO Assistant Director-General for family, women's and children's health;
- Professor Philippe Douste-Blazy of France, former politician and current UN Special Advisor;
- Dr David Nabarro, of the United Kingdom, who notably led the UN's response to Ebola;
- Dr Sania Nishtar, of Pakistan, a politician, author, activist and public health expert;
- Dr Miklós Szócska, former Minister of State for Health of Hungary.

“Today when we talk about WHO’s role it really transcends states, it goes into a global response category,” Esperanza Martinez, Head of the Health Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IPS.

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation – not to confront the states – but to challenge the states to do better, to challenge the states to fulfill their obligations, to challenge the states to be more efficient and effective,” she said.

Yet, like any other UN body, the WHO “is no better or worse than the governments who make it up,” Susannah Sirkin Director of international policy and partnerships at Physicians for Human Rights told IPS.

The new Director-General will take over after a period of heavy soul searching for the Geneva-based organisation following deep criticism of the WHO’s handling of Ebola in West Africa.

“There is an enormous call for increased transparency and efficiency within the organisation,” said Sirkin.

In order to address emerging epidemics, such as Ebola and Zika, Martinez says that it is essential that the WHO is ready and able to spring into action.

“The fact that WHO has to wait for minsters of health and governments to qualify crisis really can delay interventions in critical moments,” said Martinez.

The new Director-General will also need to be prepared to “hit the ground running,” meaning that they should be “someone who already understands how the UN system works and how the WHO works,” she added.

“We need someone who understands the dynamics of humanitarian and emergency responses today.”

For Sirkin, the new Director-General will also need to transcend the “historic limitations”which have often seen the WHO adopt “relative silence” towards matters that are seen as within the control of national governments.

Health is politicised, said Sirkin, when governments fail “to invest to an adequate degree in the provision of both preventative and curative health care, or (fail) to invest a proportionate or reasonable amount of their national budget in health care.”

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation, not to confront the states, but to challenge the states to do better," -- Esperanza Martinez, ICRC.

“The next Director-General has to really have some political courage and the ability to galvanise,” to overcome the constraints which have historically limited the WHO from speaking out.

“Somehow the WHO as an agency needs to transcend that.”

For example, she said the WHO should be able to speak out when the Syrian government “overtly obstructed the delivery of humanitarian including medical aid in an alarming way.”

She welcomed the WHO’s new role in addressing the global problem of attacks on health workers and health facilities, but noted that this is another area where the new Director-General will be required to have political courage.

Beyond humanitarian crises, the new Director-General will face many other complex challenges, including emerging threats such as antimicrobial resistance, as well as much older health challenges such as maternal mortality.

Two of the six candidates for the position of Director-General are women. Unlike the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has always been held by men, two women, Chan and Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, have already led the WHO.

However although women and children’s health have been considered priorities of the UN and the WHO, Sirkin says that it is important for the WHO to do more than pay lip service to gender inequality in health, whether a man or a woman holds the role of Director-General, “especially since there is now known an enormous correlation between women’s rights and health.”

“Basic women’s rights – including reproductive rights, violence against women (and) sexual violence – over the long run is going to be a continuing enormous barrier to the development of global health,” she said.

The six candidates will address the members of the World Health Organization as well as members of the public on November 1 and 2.

More than half (4) hail from Europe – Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom – the other two come from Ethiopia and Pakistan. The hopefuls all share backgrounds as medical doctors, and most have extensive experience in public health or politics.

The successful candidate will replace current Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, of China in July 2017.

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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Kenya’s Health Sector Challenges Present the Ideal Setting for Creating Shared Valuehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenyas-health-sector-challenges-present-the-ideal-setting-for-creating-shared-value/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-health-sector-challenges-present-the-ideal-setting-for-creating-shared-value http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenyas-health-sector-challenges-present-the-ideal-setting-for-creating-shared-value/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 11:36:53 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee and Amit Thakker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146495 Siddharth Chatterjee, (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Dr. Amit Thakker (@docthakker) is the chairman of Kenya Healthcare Federation. ]]> UNFPA and private sector representatives in Mandera county in Northern Kenya to develop solutions with the community and the county government. Credit: © Ilija Gudnitz Weber

UNFPA and private sector representatives in Mandera county in Northern Kenya to develop solutions with the community and the county government. Credit: © Ilija Gudnitz Weber

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Dr. Amit Thakker
Mandera County, Kenya, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

The increased budgetary allocations to the health sector by county governments point to an acknowledgement not only of the enormous challenges facing the sector, but also of good health as a prerequisite to overall development.

There has never been a better time for partnerships that harness the power of business to drive prosperity by tackling health challenges. The combination of a growing population and preventable infections means that companies with a focus on solving consumer challenges can expect to record impressive profits while at the same time serving a social good.

This is the approach that has brought together several public, private and non-profit partners to reduce illness and deaths among mothers and children in six counties in Kenya. Coordinated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Private Sector Health Partnership (PSHP) is an Every Woman Every Child joint commitment whose other partners include the Kenya Healthcare Federation, Philips, Huawei, Safaricom, MSD, and GSK.

The partnership aims to harnesses the strength, resources and expertise of the private sector, in close collaboration with the Government of Kenya and the six County Governments of Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo, Lamu and Migori. These counties contribute close to 50% of the country’s maternal deaths. ¬

The partnership seeks to significantly improve health outcomes in the counties, while also potentially creating shared value business opportunities, ensuring a sustained engagement that has a social as well as economic return on investment.

With support from the World Economic Forum, PSHP Kenya has built a strong platform to engage with key public and private stakeholders, create political support for the initiative as well as catalyse expertise for design of leapfrogging innovations.

It is not a partnership that is led by any one sector, but a coalition model where all players can see opportunity in line with their individual missions.

The active participation of the county governments and community organisations is helping to tweak technologies to suit local purposes. This approach is working impressively for instance in Mandera where Philips is establishing a Community Life Centre.

The Life centre is a health facility for providing vital primary care to mothers and children as well as a community hub. The local community can buy clean water and sustainable products like smokeless stoves and home solar lighting products, and benefit from solar-powered LED outdoor lighting that illuminates the area at night, improving security and extending daylight hours.

Other players like Safaricom and Huawei have started to pool their unique expertise and services in IT and mobile connectivity to design and test transformational digital health solutions. MSD has announced a USD 1.5 million grant, through its Merck for Mothers initiative, to a new project by JHPIEGO which will engage with the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) in Mandera and Migori.

UNFPA has also partnered with the Kenyan innovation incubator Nailab to support young Kenyan entrepreneurs and we have partnered with the First Lady of Kenya, Ms. Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero campaign to bring together government, private sector and the thriving civil society.

The situation in the six counties has in the past contributed to the country’s reputation as a dangerous place for a woman to give birth. Reduction of maternal and child mortality rates are some of the Millennium Development Goal targets that Kenya missed last year. However, it is clear that it is also an opportunity for collective action and a commitment to shared value creation.

In the words of Michael Porter; “for too long have business and society been pitted against each other”. The PSHP is showing the way in how different sectors with separate mission statements can be galvanized to find intersections in solving social problems.

For long, suspicions about the private sector’s motives have created a wedge, preventing social programmes from accessing the knowledge, ideas, capabilities and resources that abound in private companies.

Shared value propositions will enable different sectors to leverage each other’s assets, connections, creativity and expertise to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

We must continue finding new and creative ways to increase collaboration between government, the private sector and non-profits if we hope to reach Sustainable Development Goals.

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Indian Jails Slammed as Purgatory for the Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indian-jails-slammed-as-purgatory-for-the-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indian-jails-slammed-as-purgatory-for-the-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indian-jails-slammed-as-purgatory-for-the-poor/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 08:00:19 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146421 Beggars are often rounded up by police and thrown into jail without charges being filed against them for years. This adds to the overcrowding in Indian prisons already reeling under a lack of basic facilities. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Beggars are often rounded up by police and thrown into jail without charges being filed against them for years. This adds to the overcrowding in Indian prisons already reeling under a lack of basic facilities. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

A media frenzy ensued in New Delhi last month when a popular television channel highlighted the horrific living conditions of women inmates in ward number six of Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison.

The program – “Fear and Loathing in Tihar” — beamed into people’s homes the prisoners’ abysmal treatment by the administration: 600 of them packed like sardines into space meant for half that number, a lack of basic amenities, and a shocking state apathy towards detainees in the world’s largest democracy."Some [women inmates] even have kids who have to stay with them in those pathetic conditions till they are six years old." --Delhi-based human rights lawyer Maninder Singh

By highlighting the prisoners’ misery, the program also helped shine a light on a broken judicial system where thousands are subjected to prolonged periods of incarceration without ever seeing a judge, or whose perfunctory court appearances stretch for years thanks to a corrupt legal system clogged with too many cases, and too few judges to try them. The injustice of lengthy detention is compounded by the horrific conditions of the jail facilities.

As the world celebrates Prisoners Justice Day on Aug. 10, human rights advocates say the state of Indian detention centres needs to come into focus again. Most Indian jails fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions. Torture and other forms of ill-treatment are also common. The cells are also often dilapidated, with poor ventilation and absence of natural light.

According to a 2015 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on Tihar Jail, the prison complex is reeling under a prisoner population more than double its sanctioned strength and understaffed by 50 per cent of its required workforce. The key findings of the report suggest that the 10 jails in Tihar were grossly overcrowded with 14,209 prisoners against a capacity of 6,250.

Moreover, against government rules, 51 prisoners awaiting trial were found to have already served more than half the maximum term of punishment for the offences they were booked under, the report says.

Medical facilities, adds the damning report, are non-existent. There’s paucity of doctors, paramedical, ministerial, factory and Class IV staff by 18 to 63 per cent in the prison which despite an in-house 150-bed hospital and additional dispensaries in each of the 10 jails. The CAG found that “the hospital was not equipped to face any emergency situation”.

The subhuman conditions take a toll on human health — both mental and physical, a former inmate told IPS. “Women prisoners prefer to take care of each other when they are indisposed as there are only male doctors doing rounds most of the time,” she said. “I remember once a young woman had a miscarriage and bled for a few hours before she was taken to the hospital.”

In India, a country where U.N. figures indicate that 270 million people - or 21.9 percent of the population - live below the poverty line, justice for the poor is often delayed as well as denied. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, a country where U.N. figures indicate that 270 million people – or 21.9 percent of the population – live below the poverty line, justice for the poor is often delayed as well as denied. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The fate of prisoners on death row is worse. Not only do they inhabit inhumane living conditions, they face unfair trials and horrific acts of police torture, according to a study by the Death Penalty Research Project at the National Law University in Delhi. The study, based on interviews with 373 of the 385 inmates believed to be on death row in India, offers a harrowing insight into the unbearable conditions the prisoners have to live in as they wait for judges to decide their fate.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) report 2015 says that poor budget allocation, the way accused are arrested and non-issuance of bail along with miserable conditions in prisons were leading factors attributed to the existing living conditions of the inmates. It added that the situation calls for a trained administration to bring reformation in prisoners’ lives.

Legal eagles say the biggest bottleneck is the country’s overburdened criminal justice system which has a cascading effect on prisoners’ lives. Overcrowding is the most common. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records, in 2013, the total number of prisoners was 411,992, of which a startling 278,503 were prisoners awaiting trial. Delay in providing justice, inadequate court infrastructure, and inaccessibility of a large number of prisoners to legal help make matters worse.

As per records, currently over three million cases are pending in various Indian courts across the country. Erstwhile PM Manmohan Singh remarked that India had the world’s largest backlog of court cases. Bloomberg Business Week estimates if that all the Indian judges attacked their backlog without breaks for eating and sleeping, and closed 100 cases every hour, it would take more than 35 years to catch up.

“The severe delay in delivering justice is largely due to the fact that many courts share judges with each other, resulting in extremely slow trial procedures. There’s no effective legal redress mechanism for under trials,” explains Ajay Verma, Senior Fellow, International Bridges to Justice, a non-profit that supports justice and human rights. “These institutional pathologies result in unjust and prolonged detention.”

Delhi-based human rights lawyer Maninder Singh says that many detainees are forced to be in jail longer than the maximum sentence for the offense with which they were charged, with some people spending as long as two decades in detention before being convicted or released by the courts.

Women awaiting trial in particular, adds Singh, are made to suffer as they are too poor to afford justice. “Some even have kids who have to stay with them in those pathetic conditions till they are six years old. Many under trials languish for months without even charges being framed against them. There’s simply no legal recourse available to them.”

After studying the living conditions of jail inmates across India, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) made some key recommendations for prison reform. These include replacing the 1894 Prison Act with a new one, amending prison manuals keeping human rights in mind, reducing overcrowding, one of the biggest problems in most prisons, shifting foreign nationals to detention centres from prisons after their sentence is completed, till they are deported to their respective countries.

Despite the gloom, experts suggest that it’s not as if the situation is irretrievable. What is needed is political will and a more humanitarian approach to a very complex problem. Already, some measures in Indian jails — like rehabilitation and skilling prisoners for their gainful employment post jail term — have come in for accolades. Tihar boasts of a full-fledged cottage industry where training for carpentry, baking, tailoring, fabric painting and other crafts are imparted to empower inmates. The revenues generated from selling products made by the prisoners helps in the prison’s upkeep. Wage earning and gratuity schemes and incentives help reduce the psychological burden on the convicts.

But as Singh and Verma point out, while these measures should be amplified, the State needs to urgently focus on faster disposal of court cases, speedier justice and better conditions in jail to make life more bearable for the inmates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pan African Parliament Endorses Ban on FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/#comments Sat, 06 Aug 2016 18:14:05 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146419 Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Desmond Latham
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 6 2016 (IPS)

After years of wrangling and debates among African leaders, the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM) is gaining real momentum, with a new action plan signed this week by Pan African Parliament (PAP) representatives and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to end FGM as well as underage marriage.

The UNFPA has already trained over 100,000 health workers to deal specifically with aiding victims of FGM, while tens of thousands of traditional leaders have also signed pledges against the practice.

The agreement followed a PAP Women’s Caucus meeting with UNFPA representatives in Johannesburg on July 29-30.

Kicking off the meeting, PAP President Roger Dang said, “PAP is determined to help and be part of stakeholders to come up with solutions to this practice. This is in line with the mandate of PAP to defend and promote gender balance and people living with disability.”

The PAP is the legislative organ of the African Union, and has up to 250 members representing the 50 AU Member States.

In some African countries, girls as young as eleven and twelve are forced to marry much older men. This has led to an increase in serious health problems, including cervical cancer and a host of social problems.

UNFPA East and Southern Africa Deputy Regional Director Justine Coulson said if the current trend continues, the number of girls under 15 who had babies would rise by a million – from two to three million.

“If we do nothing, in the next decade over 14 million girls under 18 years will be married every year,” she said.

There are believed to be at least seven million child brides in Southern Africa alone. While underage marriage and childbirth is a major health risk, the Pan African Parliament UNFPA workshop also heard how FGM had led to an increased likelihood girls and women would be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The cause of this can be traced back to contaminated cutting instruments, hemorrhages requiring blood transfusions, and injurious sexual intercourse causing vaginal tearing and lesions.

Globally, an estimated 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. In Africa, FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries, with prevalence rates ranging from 98 percent in Somalia to 5 percent in Zaire.

The buy-in of African political leadership is crucial if this latest move is to succeed, with up to 140 million women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa who’ve been forced to submit to the practice of cutting their genitals. The aim is to influence people on the ground as well as effect legislation banning the practice.

The procedure intentionally alters or injures a girl or woman’s organs for non-medical reasons. There are no health benefits in the process and it can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections and a host of childbirth complications.

There are four types of genital mutilation. Type 1 is a clitoridectomy which is where the clitoris is cut out. Type 2 is known as excision which is the totally removal of the clitoris and inner folds of the vulva. Type 3 is infibulation, which is the tightening of a a vaginal opening while, Type 4 is all other harmful procedures which includes piercing, cauterising, scraping and stitching the vagina.

The PAP also agreed to work with the UNFPA in seeking to overturn the practice of marrying off children under the age of sixteen.

In June, the UNFPA worked with Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum representatives at a meeting in Swaziland which voted through a Model Law on eradicating child marriage.

Coulson said moves such as these seen in SADC are beginning to show tangible results.

“Girls and women of Africa need your support to end female genital mutilation. We need to act now. All it requires is our engagement, passion and dedication to uphold the human rights of women and girls,” she told attendees at the workshop.

Now the PAP has setup a working group which will oversee the moves towards a similar law. The areas of priority include laws and legislation, engaging the community, mobilising resources, advocacy and implementing the plan at regional and national levels.

Dang also called on men to step up and join the fight against FGM, saying, “We have double responsibility to defend girls against this human rights violation.”

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The Right to Not Disappearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-right-to-not-disappear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-right-to-not-disappear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-right-to-not-disappear/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 20:59:26 +0000 Asha Rehman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146415 By Asha’ar Rehman
Aug 5 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It goes something like this: there’s a murder in the name of ‘honour’ in a village somewhere in Pakistan. The story is reported and journalists are inspired to look for more such instances to cover. They disperse in all directions and no matter where they go searching, they return with more such murder cases to dump on the ‘honour’ killing pile.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

With time, the subject is replaced by, say, something as horrifying as gang rape. The media corps, its first line comprising the low-paid local correspondent with a finger on the market’s pulse, spreads afar and returns with a series of cases where only one would have been enough to ensure perpetual shame for all of us.

All the media, with its wide influence, needs is a cue to deliver on demand. It can unleash in relentless supply the most brutal of stories of exploitation, at workplaces, inside houses, of a sexual nature, et al, at a few hours’ notice. It can report on a story that had long been there. It can break it when it chooses, or it can hold on to it for unspecified durations, finally letting it out with a bang without bothering to explain the delay in the conveyance of the message.

How is the police file recording children’s disappearance different from a disappearance announcement made from a mosque?

Those who live close to a mosque in Lahore would vouch that children do go missing in this city: from children as small as toddlers who are barely able to tell their names, to those who are driven by the reputation of adolescence to be suspected of playing a hand in their own disappearance. The mosque’s loudspeaker is regularly used to announce the disappearance and to seek help in the recovery of those who go missing, an overwhelming majority of whom are children.

There may be sometimes an urge to find out if those who had been unaccounted for did return. No one has ever heard the respected maulvi sahib celebrate a reunion of the missing with their family by issuing a statement of congratulations through the public address system.

So regular are these announcements about the missing that now nobody seems to be too bothered about them. People hear them, say tauba, and go about their work without any grand show of emotion. The same trend that begins from the streets around the mosque is then reflected at various levels, creating many layers of indifference that the most knowledgeable amongst us believe is essential to life as it is.

Just think about it: how is the police file recording the cases of children’s disappearance in a specific period different from a disappearance announcement made from a mosque? Like these calls, these numbers have been compiled year after year, with little in terms of action to ensure a safer world for our children.

A typical such file will take you over a familiar route. The spots from where children are more likely to be picked up are highlighted, such as the darbar or shrine of the most revered saint or the tower built to mark independence or the bazaar named after the beloved damsel torn between Akbar and his son Saleem. A child may be abducted from all these places or from a park or a hospital or a mere bus terminal. The police’s book diligently counts these incidents. The self-indictment comes when these cold figures are not accompanied by any plans – not even a pledge — of just how serious our law enforcers are to safeguard these vulnerable young citizens against the cruel hands of a long grown-up society.

Missing had been the story about just how hazardous the streets of Lahore — or any other place in Pakistan — were for those we must never tire of calling as our future. A series of stories about the children missing or kidnapped has opened the floodgates on gushing fears pegged on both real and imagined incidents. The warning letters have been written, about how the children can be– how they are, says the chorus — duped into following their abductor like the rats followed the Pied Piper.

The imaginary stuff would have been easier to deal with had the ‘real’ stories not been packed with the horrors of the most fearsome kind. Imagine… no do not imagine but try and come to terms with the unearthing of this racket where a food catering contractor apparently bought young boys and then employed them as slave labour. Try and come face to face with the recovery of the disabled young girl whom the members of a beggars’ ring had abducted out of here and taken deep into Sindh.

The labour camp, the beggars’ mafia, are just two manifestations; the stereotype is kept alive in so many of our responses. Not the least most painful among them is how Lahore as the venue for these disappearances has left some people typically aghast. They must show mock surprise at the wonder-city that hogs funds and official patronage but is so oblivious to the plight of the young ones in its charge. It is the same smirk that had previously been displayed when Lahoris were found to be eating donkey-meat or when they were being preyed upon by a killer mosquito. Little does the envious crowd realise that where the development projects are grand, the likelihood of serious everyday issues suffering neglect is that much greater. The missing resolve on children is proof.

These stories come in steadily, each one of them bringing back the sensation we experienced when as a young, learning soul we were given our earliest lessons in how to keep our distance from the big bad world we were such an integral part of. There was nothing more serious, more nightmarish than being lost in a world we were required to explore, to tame and to conquer. The way we have failed to deliver on the basics — such as a young, and old, soul’s right to not disappear — shows we have all been long lost.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Uganda Ill-Equipped for Growing Cancer Burdenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/uganda-ill-equipped-for-growing-cancer-burden/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uganda-ill-equipped-for-growing-cancer-burden http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/uganda-ill-equipped-for-growing-cancer-burden/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 13:34:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146200 Jovia, who died on Apr. 29, 2016, suffered from both HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer, a deadly combination affecting thousands of women in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Jovia, who died on Apr. 29, 2016, suffered from both HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer, a deadly combination affecting thousands of women in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Uganda, Jul 25 2016 (IPS)

Lying on a dirty bed in a crowded, squalid hostel in Kampala, emaciated Jovia, 29, managed a weak smile as a doctor delivered her a small green bottle containing a liquid.

“I’m so happy they’ve brought the morphine,” the mother told IPS, just about the only words she could get out during what would be the last weeks of her life. “It controls my pain and makes my life more bearable.”“As long as radiotherapy is not available in Uganda many more patients will die.” -- Dr. Anne Merriman

Jovia was suffering from both HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer, a deadly combination affecting thousands of women in Uganda. While the east African country had huge success in the battle against the HIV virus in the 1990s, cervical and other cancers are the new health crises gripping the developing nation. One in 500 Ugandans suffers from cancer. But only five per cent of patients will get any form of treatment, facing an often tortuous death.

Thanks to Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU), founded 23 years ago by the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, British-born Dr. Anne Merriman, patients like Jovia are given not only affordable pain-controlling oral liquid morphine, but comfort, hope and dignity in their last days.

At 81, Dr. Merriman is credited with introducing palliative care to Africa. HAU has cared for a total of 27,000 seriously ill and dying people since 1993, the vast majority with the morphine made at its Kampala headquarters for just two dollars a bottle, with government funding.

In Uganda, cancer is usually diagnosed quite late, due to poor screening and lack of health services. According to the country’s Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), 80 per cent of sufferers die because of late diagnosis.

For patients like Jovia, who passed away peacefully on Apr. 29, leaving a daughter, 14, radiotherapy can cure or extend life when treated in early stages.

A tray of morphine for Jovia. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

A tray of morphine at Hospice Africa Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

But in early April, Uganda’s only radiotherapy machine broke beyond repair. It was used by about 30,000 cancer patients annually. Since then, thousands in need of radiotherapy to cure their cancer, or extend their lives, have been left without vital treatment.

The Ugandan government had purchased a new machine, worth a reported 500,000 dollars, three years ago, but it could not be delivered as special bunkers needed to house the machine had to be built.

Facing an uproar from within Uganda at the lack of radiotherapy services, the government promised a new bunker would be built within six months. Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, offered free treatment for 400 Ugandan cancer patients. The plan was that they would be sent there by the Ugandan government through the UCI.

But more than three months later there is still huge confusion and contradictory reports and statements about the delivery of this promise, and controversy over the delay in getting desperate patients. Despite repeated requests for clarification the UCI nor Uganda’s ministry of health are able to state exactly how many patients – if indeed any – have yet been sent to Kenya for treatment.

Christine Namulindwa, UCI’s public relations officer, pointed out patients going to Nairobi have to go through an “evaluation”, and be approved by a board.

“So far we’ve submitted 15 names to the ministry of health and more are yet to be submitted,” she said last month. The pledge for free treatment from Aga Khan did not cover the cost of transporting patients and upkeep while in Nairobi, she said.

She said there were “patients who are still waiting” and referred IPS to the health ministry for further questions.

On July 1, Professor Anthony Mbonye, Acting Director General of Health services, told IPS via email the ministry of health had “received a budget for supporting patients to Aga Khan and will provide transport and funds for maintenance”.

A lawyer had “cleared a memorandum of understanding between Aga Khan and UCI,” he said.

“The radiotherapy machine was bought, but the bunker is yet to be rehabilitated. In two months’ time the machine will be installed and services will resume.”

Stories in East African papers in early July reported that the “long wait” was “over” for patients, after Aga Khan signed an MOU with UCI, allowing 400 out of 17,000 patients to “receive treatment”. But they did not give a date for when they would go to Kenya.

Another report said only tumour patients with chances of survival, but including those suffering breast and cervical cancer, would be transported to Kenya using government vans. It said accommodation and other support services were being organised by Uganda’s High Commission in Nairobi, and 20 patients have been approved to go. But again it gave no specific date for their transportation.

Two of seven patients have been treated at Aga Khan not through the UCI and the Ugandan government, but through a partnership with HAU and Road to Care, a programme developed by Canadian doctor Joda Kuk. He set up scheme in 2011 after he witnessed women with cervical cancer in rural areas of Uganda needing desperate assistance to get to Kampala for radiotherapy.

Mary Birungi and Mary Gahoire, a mother of three, both from western Uganda, returned home the week of July 21 after travelling to Kenya by road, being housed by Road to Care and completing radiotherapy treatment there. They are now back with their families.

Two more patients are in the middle of treatment this week and and two more will travel to Kenya. The seventh patient is due to go there in the first week of August.

Dr. Anne Merriman pleaded with the Ugandan government to do all in its power to complete the building of the new bunkers so the new radiotherapy machine can be commissioned as soon as possible.

“We are so happy that under Road to Care seven of our patients will be treated in Kenya, but this is just a drop in the ocean,” she said. “The need is huge. There has been so much confusion since the machine broke down, causing huge stress to patients and families. “

“As long as radiotherapy is not available in Uganda many more patients will die.”

On July 23, Professor Mbyonye told IPS that “some” patients have gone to Kenya and had already come back through the agreement between the health ministry and Aga Khan, but couldn’t give more details.

For many though, it’s too late.

Vesta Kefeza, 49, a mother of seven, has advanced cervical cancer. Lying on a mattress on the ground of her one-room home in Namugongo slum, Kampala, she is immobile, as her leg has ballooned due to a complication from the cancer.

She has been on HAU’s programme since 2011 and is administered morphine by their nurses. Uganda became the first country in the world to allow nurses to prescribe the drug in 2004. The hospice team also provides food and spiritual support.

In June, thanks to a donation from Ireland, Kefeza received a wheelchair, allowing her to get out into the fresh air and go to church.

“Until then I lay in bed all day,” she said. “I thank God for my blessings. I am lucky to have HAU caring for me.”

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