Inter Press ServiceWomen’s Health – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:10:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 WHO Urges Govt’s to Raise Taxes on Tobaccohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/urges-govts-raise-taxes-tobacco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urges-govts-raise-taxes-tobacco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/urges-govts-raise-taxes-tobacco/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 21:27:30 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151369 Seven million people die each year from tobacco-related deaths, according to a new report published by the World Health Organisation today. Stressing the urgent need to curb deaths from smoking, Dr. Vinayak Prasad, the head of WHO’s tobacco control programme, told IPS that “countries have to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies at the best-level.” […]

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Credit: IPS

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2017 (IPS)

Seven million people die each year from tobacco-related deaths, according to a new report published by the World Health Organisation today.

Stressing the urgent need to curb deaths from smoking, Dr. Vinayak Prasad, the head of WHO’s tobacco control programme, told IPS that “countries have to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies at the best-level.”

He mentioned the adoption of core policies, called MPOWER, to monitor and protect people from tobacco smoke. At the highest level of implementation of these policies, countries will have eliminated tobacco-related deaths.

“The focus of the report is to monitor effective implementation of policies. The trend is good, but there’s room for vast improvement. Many countries are helping people to quit by putting out larger warning labels, but there’s no stringent action by measures of raising tax, for example,” said Dr. Prasad.

Still, there is good news—almost 71 countries have two or more of MPOWER policies in place, protecting a total of 3.2 billion people worldwide. In 2007, only 42 countries had some policy in place.

Every country, of course, follows a mix of different measures.

In terms of the newer countries on board, Afghanistan and Cambodia have adopted smoke-free laws in indoor public places and workplaces. Other countries have expanded existing measures—Nepal and Bangladesh passed laws at the national level for larger warning labels clearly demonstrating the harmful effects of smoking.

Still others, like Austria and Malta, have adopted the surest but politically most charged approach to combat the epidemic—raising taxes.

“The important issue is to support the benefit of raising taxes—it’ll bring down both demand and generate resources. In Philippines—which raised taxes in 2012—two things happened. The country generated extra revenue by as much as 5 billion dollars, and the use of tobacco declined. More governments have to understand this,” said Dr. Prasad.

The importance of raising taxes so that governments are able to spend that extra money on healthcare is a crucial and proven linkage, but has faltered after enormous pressure from powerful tobacco lobbyists to maintain the status quo.

“The countries which have shown progress are moving in the right direction. There needs to be greater political will because we have the evidence and the knowledge to back it up. We need to understand that the tobacco industry is not our friend,” Dr. Prasad explained.

Similarly, adoption of other effective measures like a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising and promotion also ranks low among countries. Mainly low and middle income countries, like Afghanistan and Senegal, among five others, have implemented the policy.

Combating a tobacco epidemic does not rest on curbing sale of cigarettes alone. Tobacco can be consumed in several other ways, such as its widespread consumption as khaini and bidis in India.

“Of the 300 million smokers in India, 72 million smoke bidis. The majority of the population consume khaini,” explained Dr. Prasad on the multifaceted tasks of fighting the tobacco industry.

The report was launched on the sidelines of the UN high-level political forum on sustainable development. Controlling tobacco is a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs).

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Educating Children One Radio Wave at a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/educating-children-one-radio-wave-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=educating-children-one-radio-wave-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/educating-children-one-radio-wave-time/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 20:40:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151366 Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario. Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region. “Boko Haram […]

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'Kidnappy' is one of the fears that Nigerian children shared as part of UNICEF's Education in Emergencies exercise. Thousands of young girls have been kidnapped and held for year by Boko Haram since the start of the insurgency in 2009. Credit: UNICEF

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2017 (IPS)

Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario.

Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region.

“Boko Haram has disrupted the lives of 1.3 million children with a radical insurgency that has burned villages, displaced people, and created a culture of fear,” said UNICEF’s Crisis Communications Specialist Patrick Rose.

Now entering its eight year, Boko Haram’s violent insurgency has intensified and spilled over in the Lake Chad region, displacing over 2 million people across four countries.

The group has particularly targeted education, destroying more than 900 schools and forcing at least 1,500 more to close.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 611 teachers have been killed and another 19,000 forced to flee. Boko Haram has also attacked students to keep them out of school and forcibly recruited students into its ranks.

Such targeted attacks and destruction have created an education gap in crisis-affected areas, especially where displaced communities have fled to.

“Short of going through and building new schools in all of those communities when we don’t know how long this conflict is going to last, we tried to develop ways that we could reach these children and deliver some sort of educational routine that will keep them at least learning,” Rose told IPS.

Created with support from the European Union (EU) and in partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, UNICEF’s radio education programs serve as an alternative platform for the 200,000 children in the two countries unable to access schools.

It includes 44 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

The curriculum also includes a child protection component such as psychosocial support, guiding teachers to create a space for children to share their experiences and learn how to manage their fears.

“When you have children who have been deeply disturbed by displacement, many of whom have witnessed the murders of their own families, and you create a situation in which they are expected to spend eight hours a day in a classroom that isn’t engaging at all with the reality that they are encountering outside, you get a fundamental dissonance and ultimately low engagement,” Rose said.

As part of its Education in Emergencies initiatives, UNICEF works closely with communities to identify the risks they face as individuals and schools as a whole.

In one such workshop about fears, one girl wrote “kidnappy,” reflecting the deep distress and risk of kidnapping that young girls face.

Not only does the radio program have the potential to decrease the likelihood of kidnapping as children listen from home, but it also creates a “positive” space that addresses children’s realities.

Discussions are underway with the governments of Cameroon and Niger to make radio courses certified, allowing children to receive a certification and pass the school year.

Rose called the approach to the complex crisis “unique,” as it moves from a focus on individual countries to a multi-country response.

He also highlighted the potential for the radio education program to be replicated in other regions of the world.

In 35 crisis-affected countries, humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises have disrupted the education of 75 million children between the ages of 3 and 18.

“In the same way that radio played a key role in the Cold War and reaching people around the world with messages, it is the same sort of situation here—radio doesn’t respect the borders of conflicts,” Rose concluded.

Ongoing insecurity has impeded humanitarian response in the Lake Chad basin, leaving children’s needs largely unmet.

UNICEF has so far received 50 percent of a 38.5-million-dollar appeal to meet the education needs of children in the region.

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Digitizing Family Planning: The Way of the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/digitizing-family-planning-way-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digitizing-family-planning-way-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/digitizing-family-planning-way-future/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 00:09:59 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151310 Online shopping may have its pros and cons, but when it comes to buying products that have an invisible morality tag, it’s the safest possible option, believes Franklin Paul. One of India’s most vocal advocates for youth rights to sexual health, education and products, Paul has spent over two years studying and introducing digital technologies […]

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Digitizing SRHR communication: some of the popular mobile phone apps currently used in India by the government and an NGO. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Digitizing SRHR communication: some of the popular mobile phone apps currently used in India by the government and an NGO. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
LONDON, Jul 17 2017 (IPS)

Online shopping may have its pros and cons, but when it comes to buying products that have an invisible morality tag, it’s the safest possible option, believes Franklin Paul.

One of India’s most vocal advocates for youth rights to sexual health, education and products, Paul has spent over two years studying and introducing digital technologies to India’s rural youths. “One day soon, nobody will have to walk into a store to buy condoms, face the nosey chemist and feel embarrassed. They will just order it from their mobile phone or tablet or laptop and and get it delivered on their doorstep,” he says ."Health workers themselves feel embarrassed to talk of sex and contraceptives, but if that information is available on the mobile screen, nobody will have to be embarrassed." --Kamla Mukhi

Talking to IPS on the sidelines of the London Family Planning Summit held last week, Paul shared his personal experiences of talking to youths in the East Champaran district of Bihar, one of India’s most underdeveloped states. The government has just introduced sex education in the state’s schools, but for young men and women, it is difficult to get the correct information on reproductive health.

To help them, Paul and his fellow youths launched a cellphone application called M Sathi. Available now on Google Play, the app provides information in a fun and interactive way where users can learn about sex and related issues through games and quizzes.

Digitizing SRHR

In India, the government is currently running a special campaign on expanding digital connectivity and providing quality e-Governance. Named “Digital India”, the campaign envisions transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

The campaign aligns well with the government’s plan to advance and improve sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the country, says Chandra Kumar Mishra, India’s secretary of health. “We are digitising our communication all along our supply chain,” he said, right after announcing that India would spend an additional one billion dollars in the next five years to provide better reproductive health care to its population.

With the new announcement, India’s commitment now stands at an impressive sum of three billion dollars.

There are 100 million women in India who use contraceptives, according to government data. But not every one receives what she needs. This causes not just an imbalance in the demand and supply system, but also becomes a hurdle in achieving the overall SRHR goal of the government: providing contraceptives to an additional 48 million women and also reduce and eradicate diseases and deaths.

Digital tools can help bridge the gap between the demand and the supply, says Mishra.

Citing the example of E-mitra, a mobile phone based communication service launched by the government, Mishra says that the rapid expansion of digital network in India is sparking greater use of internet phones, especially in the urban and semi-urban belt. Health service providers should leverage this opportunity to reach out more people and provide them with credible information through mobile phones and internet tools, he feels.

Cellphones for Better Information

Mishra’s words resonate with Kamla Mukhi, a 24-year-old young tribal woman community health campaigner in Daltongunj, a coal mining district in east India’s Jharkhand state. In Daltongunj, tribal women have to travel 20-25 kilometers to reach the nearest health center for their need – whether it is for information or a product.

A year ago, Mukhi visited one such health center. “An elderly woman health worker secretly slipped a box of condoms into a young woman’s hand. Later, the woman asked me, ‘Didi, how do I eat this? This is rubber.‘ I did not know whether to laugh or cry. The woman had earlier received cereals and birth control pills here, so she thought this new product was also for swallowing,“ Mukhi recalls.

With mobile phones, such situations would not occur because women can receive the information directly, without any added confusion, Mukhi says.“The health workers themselves feel embarrassed to talk of sex and contraceptives, but if that information is available on the mobile screen, nobody will have to be embarrassed.”

The digitized information system can also be a big boon for women and young people who live in conflict areas, says Mukhi, whose own village falls in an area partially controlled by Naxals, an ultra-communist rebel outfit fighting against the government.

“Women walk long miles to a health center. Then they find out it’s been closed because there was a security threat or an attack. If such information is shared on a mobile phone, they need not undergo such unnecessary hassles,“ says the young health activist.

Investing in Data

But while it’s rather easy to share and give away information, collecting accurate statistics about how that knowledge is put to use remains a huge challenge.

“Credible data is a very crucial area,” says Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who in 2016 had announced an 80-million-dollar fund for research and collection of reliable gender specific data. Such data, feels Gates, is vital to identify the economic and social issues affecting women and fulfill the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially goals 3 and 5.

“When a woman health center worker uses and shares data with the women in her community, she knows its valuable because its credible,“ Gates says.

Mishra agrees: “One of the technologies that we are using is Supply Chain Management, a software that will track the purchases and supply of all the reproductive healthcare commodities. We also have a current database on levels of contraceptive use which we are now going to digitize. Soon we will have an enormous volume of data and most of it we will make available to the public,” he says.

Currently, the government is partnering with the Gates Foundation in developing Kilkari, a mobile application that will provide customized information to new mothers, including notifying them on next vaccination dates. The government also has two other mobile apps – Emitra and Anmol – that are used to give free information on family planning.

Youth-Friendly Technologies

None of the government’s technologies are specifically targeting youths, Mishra admits, but says that his department is planning to address it soon. Franklin Paul says that to encourage youths to use the technologies, they need to be ‘youth-friendly.‘

“The government apps are very text-heavy. But young people love something that is interactive and visually appealing and stimulating. This is why we are about to add videos to our Msathi apps. Just as we need to give them a basket of contraceptive products to choose from, we also need to give them a basket of technologies to pick. So, instead of just text messages, we should offer a bouquet of ecommerce, multimedia and social media that will help expand SRHR services among youths,“ says Paul.

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2 Billion People Don’t Have Access To Clean Water, Opens up Fissures of Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/2-billion-people-dont-access-clean-water-opens-fissures-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2-billion-people-dont-access-clean-water-opens-fissures-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/2-billion-people-dont-access-clean-water-opens-fissures-inequality/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:52:35 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151290 More than two billion people lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Although significant progress to ensure access to drinking water has been achieved, there is still a long way to go to ensure its quality—deemed free from pollutants and safe for […]

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More than two billion people lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

On 9 February 2016 in central Ethiopia, children and women from a semi-pastoralist community wait their turn to fill jerrycans with clean water at a water point in Haro Huba Kebele in Fantale Woreda, in East Shoa Zone, Oromia Region. Credit: © UNICEF/UN011590/Ayene

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

More than two billion people lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Although significant progress to ensure access to drinking water has been achieved, there is still a long way to go to ensure its quality—deemed free from pollutants and safe for drinking.

“Clean water and sanitation is central to other outcomes, for example, nutrition among children. While many countries like India have made it a top priority, many others haven’t been able to emphasise the issue yet,” Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, told IPS.

As many as 400 million people still rely on distant water sources—travelling to and fro from their homes to pick it up. Some 159 million people, according to the report, rely on untreated water from lakes and streams. This puts lives, especially of young children, at great risk.

“Every day, 800 children under the age of five die from waterborne diseases like diarrhoea. In fact, diarrhoea is the second biggest cause of death in the world.” Wijesekera added.

A lack of access to clean drinking water is also bad news for hygiene and sanitary levels. In many countries, open defecation due to the lack of in-house toilets poses a significant challenge.

“The sheer indignity of openly defecating, especially among young girls, takes a toll on other aspects of their lives—such as their poor attendance in school where there aren’t toilets,” Wijesekera explained.

This is especially true in rural areas. While the global drop in open defecation from 20 to 12 percent between 2000 and 2015 is a welcome fact, the rate of decline, at just .7 percent every year, puts pressure on governments to do more. To eliminate open defecation by 2030, for example, the rate of decline has to double.

Still, some countries like Ethiopia have combatted the issue of open defecation successfully.

“In Ethiopia, the percentage has dropped from 80 to 27 percent between 2000 and 2015. Critical building blocks like stronger policies at the government levels and dutiful allocation of funds can go a long way,” Wijesekera said.

These issues—from access to safe drinking water to sanitation supplies—mostly affect the poorest families. For example, Angola, which has performed better than other sub-Saharan African countries and achieved overall basic access to water for its citizens, still shows a gap of 40 percent between people who live in urban and rural areas.

Similarly, Panama’s capital city has achieved universal access to clean drinking water, but other sub regions in the country remain marginalized.

Meanwhile, the report has drawn criticism from other NGOs for being incomplete.

“The report is a good starting point but the current data only reflects 35 percent of the global population across 92 countries. Big countries like China and India have been left out,” Al-Hassan Adam, the international coordinator at End Water Poverty, a coalition organisation that campaigns for water rights and sanitation, told IPS.

“Bigger industries have to do more to protect water resources. In countries like Mexico, water is still contaminated. In other poorer countries, infrastructure to ensure safely managed water is missing in the first place,” he added.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN strongly focus on reducing inequality between and within countries, and commit member states to “leave no one behind.”

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For India’s Urban Marginalized, Reproductive Healthcare Still a Distant Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/#comments Tue, 11 Jul 2017 12:21:01 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151240 In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom. Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women […]

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India is a part of the FP2020 – a partnership to achieve SDG 3 & 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030

Sex workers in India’s Chennai city demonstrate their skills in slipping condoms on a phallus. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHENNAI/LONDON, Jul 11 2017 (IPS)

In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom.

Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women opens a box, takes out a handful of condoms and a wooden phallus. Sound of laughter fills the air as each woman takes her trurn to slip a condom over the phallus. It’s a rare, happy hour for these women who live a hard life as sex workers – a fact they carefully guard from their families.“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging. How can they ever afford any of these treatments?" --Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man

Baby, who only goes by the first name, is in her forties and the most experienced of all when it comes to demostrating condom skills. A peer educator, Baby has been teaching fellow sex workers all over the city of Chennai how to practice safe sex and protect themselves from both HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Thanks to constant training and a generation of awareness, condoms are now part and parcel of almost all of the city’s 6,300 sex workers’ lives, she says. But their sexual health and protection from diseases still completely depend on their clients’ willingness to use a condom.

“We try our best to help the client understand that it is very important to wear a condom because that will keep us both safe from HIV and other infections like gonorrhea. But it needs some convincing. Most of them wear it only grudgingly,“ says Baby.

Female condoms – a mirage

India is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of condoms in the world. The government-owned Hindustan Latest Limited (HLL) produces over a billion condoms annually, including Nirodh. Of these, 650 million Nirodh condoms are given away annually free of cost for the safe sex campaign. But when it comes to female condoms, there is no free lunch and one must buy the condoms from a store.

AJ Hariharan is the founder and CEO of the Chennai-based Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), one of the largest NGOs in the country working for the welfare of sex workers. Hariharan says that female condoms could be of immense help for the sex workers, but are extremely hard to access because of steep pricing.

A pack of male condom costs around 25 rupees, while a female condom is priced at 59 and above. This is far beyond the reach of most sex workers whose daily earnings are 200-500 rupees, which goes to support their families.

“At the current price, a female condom is an out of reach luxury for poor women. They will never be able to able to use this which is a shame because the average sex workers really need female condoms,” Hariharan adds..

The reason behind the “great need” is both self-empowerment and money, he explains: it takes some time to explain to a client why he must wear a condom and then help him put it on. But this requires time and often, the couple may have to wait before the man has an erection again. With a female condom, business can be done faster as she can save both her time and energy and serve him quick. For those women who rent a place for work, this can be very helpful as she can be with multiple clients in few hours and spend less on rent.

Organizations like ICWO have asked the government for a free supply of female condoms, says Hariharan, but have not received any so far. “This is one of the biggest unmet needs and it must be looked seriously into,” he says.

Despite their inability to afford female condoms, the sex worker community is luckier than other marginalized people of the city as they regularly access sexual and reproductive health services.

“There are eight hospitals in the city where we can go for a regular health check-up that includes having an HIV and STI test and take condoms,” says Vasanthi, a sex worker.

Healthcare for the Transgender

But for another sexual minority – the 450,000 strong transgender community – even a regular health check-up remains a struggle.

“One of the biggest challenges is finding a doctor who can and is willing to understand our problems,” reveals Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man.

“The moment you walk into a hospital or a private clinic, the doctor will start judging your character and rebuke you for your sexual choice, instead of advising you what to do. It always starts with ‘why do you choose to be this way?’ After this, obviously you will never feel like opening up about your health issues,” Axom says.

Besides the moral policing, transgender community members also face uphill battles to afford healthcare including feminizing and masculinizing hormonal treatment.

Axom has been undergoing hormonal treatment. He hopes to have sex reassignment surgery – a multilayered medical treatment that will give him a prosthetic penis – and is spending over 10,000 dollars on the treatment. Thanks to his job in one of the world‘s biggest e-commerce firms, he can afford it, but for most others, such procedures remain a distant dream.

“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging,” Axom says. “How can they ever afford any of these treatments?“

FP2020, Commitments and Gaps

In 2012, India became a part of the FP2020 – a global partnership to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030. India had committed among other things to invest two billion dollars over eight years to reduce the unmet need and address “equity so that the poorest and most vulnerable population have more access to quality services and supplies.“

On July 11, representatives from the FP2020 partner countries are participating in a summit in London again to inform and analyse the current status of delivering those commitments made four years ago.

For India, this is a good chance to tell the world what it has really done and recommit to achieve the goals that it had set, says Lester Coutinho, Deputy Director of Family Planning at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Governments, including India, are now responding to the gaps in the commitments that they made. Adolescents and youths are one area, supply chain is another, money for purchasing commodities is the third. Giving counseling and information to women and young people is another. There are tangible solutions in these areas that the government can adopt,” says Coutinho.

Meanwhile, in Chennai, transsexual men and woman like Axom hope that one day the government will subsidize the SRS and hormonal treatment for transgenders.

“The Supreme Court of India recognized the transpeople as a third gender in 2014, so we are now entitled to equal rights and facilities as other citizens do. If the government can offer free surgeries for life-threatening diseases, why can’t we expect it to offer us subsidies on treatments that can remove threats to our identities and the restoration of a normality in our life?” asks Axom.

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Is Religion the New Colonial Frontier in International Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development/#respond Tue, 04 Jul 2017 06:30:40 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151158 Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

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Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2017 (IPS)

A decade ago, it was difficult to get Western policy makers in governments to be interested in the role of religious organizations in human development. The secular mind-set was such that religion was perceived, at best, as a private affair. At worst, religion was deemed the cause of harmful social practices, an obstacle to the “sacred” nature of universal human rights, and/or the root cause of terrorism. In short, religion belonged in the ‘basket of deplorables’.

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Yet, starting in the mid-1990s with then President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, and celebrated in 2000 under then UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan when the Millenium Development Goals were agreed to, a number of religiously-inspired initiatives coalesced, all trying to move ‘religion’ to international development’s ‘basket of desirables’.

The arguments used to begin to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliche: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to human kind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today, are administered or influenced to some extent, by religious entities.

So if we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries. Facts and figures as to how many social services are provided by/through religious institutions continue to be provided and roundly disputed.

The number of initiatives within the secular multilaterals – like the UN – which focused on ‘religion and development’ began to slowly attract the attention (and the money) of some western donor governments such as Switzerland and Norway, both of whom were keen on mobilising religious support for women’s rights in particular. Some governments (such as the USA and the UK) dabbled in engaging with religious NGOs both at home in their own countries, and supporting some of them in their development and humanitarian work abroad.

Nevertheless, from a multilateral perspective, the larger tapestry of western donor support to efforts around religion, tended to be marginal – dipping toes in the water rather than taking a plunge.

With the increasing presence of al-Qaeda on the world stage in 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world witnessed the emerging gruesome hydras of religious extremism, at once fueling, and being fueled by, the phenomena of ultra nationalism, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Some western governments spoke openly of engaging religious actors in counter-terrorism, but this narrative was fraught with political tensions.

It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.

For the UN developmental entities who had invested significantly to generate the interest of their largest western donors in the relevance of religions to development, spurred by the learning from the MDGs and with a view to realizing Agenda 2030, there was a noticeable volte face which was taking place right under their noses.

Almost overnight, UN-steered initiatives to engage with religious actors and enhance partnerships around health, education, environment, women’s rights, humanitarian work, all of which had been painstakingly prepared and backed by years of research, consultations, networking and shared practice (as the work of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development testifies) became the object of desire by some governments.

Rather than seek to support the UN in continuing to engage with this work and the critical partnerships developed and labored over for years, however, the objective of these governments is to seek to directly manage the convening, networking and funding roles of faith-based entities, ostensibly with the same objectives of achieving the SDGs.

But there is a critical difference between the UN convening and working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, and one or a handful of governments doing so. To survive, to thrive, and to protect human rights, the agenda of multilateral entities has to remain distinct from the national self-interest of any one government – or a handful thereof – no matter how powerful this government (or these governments), may be.

This applies to all issues, constituencies and types of partnerships outlined in SDG 17. But the argument here is even more powerful: that where religions are concerned, the need for unbiased and non-partisan engagement with religious actors, distinct from any one nation’s self-interest, is crucial.

If there is suspicion about the role of a non-western government in supporting religious actors in countries outside of its own, then why do we not also suspect western governments of involving themselves in supporting religious efforts in countries other than their own?

This question becomes especially pertinent when we begin to look at the religious composition of the western governments now keen on ‘supporting religion and development’ abroad – they are mostly Christian. And if we look at the governments viewed with much suspicion who have long been supporting religious engagement overseas (also for development and humanitarian purposes, one might add), they tend to be Muslim. A coincidence perhaps?

To avoid these kinds of questions, it would behoove all concerned parties interested in achieving the significant targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, and with a view to endorsing the United Nations’ mandate of safeguarding peace and security and protecting human rights, to support the efforts of the UN system in engaging the whole of civil society.

Rather than efforts driven by some governments, to work with select religious actors, in some countries, the challenge (which is fully achievable) is to strengthen the multi-faith and broad-based civic coalitions of legally registered, bona fide NGOs, working with and known to their governments and to the UN entities, at national, regional and global levels, to deliver for the world.

Otherwise, the danger is that such efforts will be misconstrued as the new colonial enterprise in international development, playing into rising religious tensions globally. History is replete with examples where mobilizing religious actors in other countries, no matter how well-intentioned, can create some rather unholy alliances.

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Progress on World Hunger Has Reversedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/progress-world-hunger-reversed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=progress-world-hunger-reversed http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/progress-world-hunger-reversed/#comments Mon, 03 Jul 2017 16:10:21 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151156 World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said a UN specialised agency. During its biennial conference held in Rome, Italy from 3-8 July, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that the world is facing it’s worst food crisis since World War II. “I wish I could announce here today some good news regarding […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2017 (IPS)

World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said a UN specialised agency.

During its biennial conference held in Rome, Italy from 3-8 July, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that the world is facing it’s worst food crisis since World War II.

World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said FAO: the world is facing its worst food crisis since World War II

Credit: FAO/Carlo Perla

“I wish I could announce here today some good news regarding the global fight against hunger…but, unfortunately, it is not the case,” said FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva to member states at the opening of the meeting.

FAO has identified 19 countries facing severe food crises due to a combination of conflict and climate change including South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen where nearly 20 million are affected.

Though South Sudan recently declared that it no longer has areas in famine, millions are still on the brink of starvation as violence and insecurity ensues.

In fact, almost 60 percent of hungry people around the world live in areas affected by conflicts and climate change. With no relief to be seen, many turn to migration, contributing to the doubling of global displacement, said Graziano da Silva.

The concerning trends comes just two years after the adoption the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals which includes targets to eradicate hunger by 2030.

“Strong political commitment to eradicate hunger is fundamental, but it is not enough. Hunger will only be defeated if countries translate their pledges into concrete action, especially at national and local levels,” said Graziano da Silva.

Though peace is important to end these crises, the international community cannot wait for peace in order to take action, he added.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni similarly called for “renewed and extraordinary efforts” during a keynote address, particularly pointing to the influx of migrants into the European Union (EU) country’s shores.

Italy is one of the major destinations for migrants who embark on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean sea. In the first six months of 2017, Italy has taken in over 82,000 migrants. In the past week alone, more than 10,000 migrants have been rescued from overcrowded, unstable boats by the country’s coastguard.

Overwhelmed by the numbers, the country has threatened to close their ports to rescue ships unless other EU countries share responsibility and help take in migrants.

However, responding to emergencies alone will not be sufficient.

“To save lives, we have to save their livelihoods. We cannot save people and put them in camps,” said Graziano da Silva.

FAO has highlighted the importance of work around climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable agricultural production, migration, and support of conflict-affected rural livelihoods among its key priorities.

“There is no peace without sustainable development, and there is no sustainable development without peace. Vulnerable people, rural people cannot be left behind…we have to build the conditions for them to thrive, for them to have hope, for them to exercise their human right to food,” Graziano da Silva concluded.

Around 1000 participants are expected to attend the 40th session of FAO’s conference, including a 176 member delegation. Participants will address pressing policy issues related to global food security and will review and vote on FAO Director-General’s proposed program of work and budget for 2018-2019.

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Ending Child Marriage Could Add Trillions to World Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/ending-child-marriage-add-trillions-world-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-child-marriage-add-trillions-world-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/ending-child-marriage-add-trillions-world-economy/#respond Fri, 30 Jun 2017 06:07:19 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151120 The benefits of ending child marriage are many—boosting a young girl’s morale and increasing her chances of education and work, and by that virtue, curbing high population rates in developing economies and boosting growth. Still, more than 15 million children, under 18 years of age, are married each year. A new study published by the […]

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In Nepal, many children who suffer from malnutrition belong to young mothers. In fact, teen marriages and pregnancies are common and over 23 percent of women give birth before they are 18 years old. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2017 (IPS)

The benefits of ending child marriage are many—boosting a young girl’s morale and increasing her chances of education and work, and by that virtue, curbing high population rates in developing economies and boosting growth.

Still, more than 15 million children, under 18 years of age, are married each year.

A new study published by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) estimates that from now until 2030, the largely outlawed practice of child marriage is going to cost developing countries trillions of dollars.

“We haven’t seen real investments needed to end the practise. Policy makers have increasingly acknowledged child marriage as a human rights abuse, but we didn’t have a sense of the economic impact, which we thought might spur increased funding by donors and governments,” Suzanne Petroni, one of the lead authors of the report, told IPS.

The burden is borne mainly by poor economies with a large population of children under 18. The UN estimates that Africa, by the end of 2050, will be home to the largest population of children under 18.

In the Republic of Niger, for instance, 77 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 22 were married before they turned 18.

Given the high numbers, Niger also stands to curb its population growth by as much as 5 percent if it ended the practice, and trigger growth of 1.7 billion dollars in additional welfare, 327 million in savings to the education budget, and 34 million through reduced infant mortality.

Similarly, In Uganda, the economy stands to gain 2.4 billion dollars by curbing its population growth, as does Nepal, which stands to gain almost a billion dollars.

Globally, the amount adds up to 500 billion dollars, picked up by related benefits—fewer instances of malnutrition, for example—by the end of 2030.

“Many countries have laws on the books. In Bangladesh, for instance, half of the girls are married before 18, even though the country has banned child marriage since 1929. So clearly, laws are not sufficient to create change,” Petroni explained.

Besides the glaring benefits of a surge in economic growth in developing countries, ending the practise will ensure better prospects for young girls— better education, higher incomes, and finally, as better decision makers.

In fact, child marriage and higher school dropout rates hamper the chances of earning better wages by 9 percent on average.

The UN aims to abolish the practise by 2030, as a part of its broader mission to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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More Bang for Your Buck: Saving Lives by Investing in the Pooresthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/bang-buck-saving-lives-investing-poorest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bang-buck-saving-lives-investing-poorest http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/bang-buck-saving-lives-investing-poorest/#respond Wed, 28 Jun 2017 07:01:21 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151079 Investing in the health of the poorest communities saves almost twice as many lives, according to a UN agency’s analysis. In a new report titled “Narrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Poorest Children,” the UN’s Children Agency (UNICEF) found that increased access to health among poor communities saves more lives and is […]

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Unless progress on reducing child mortality accelerates, which can only be achieved with focus and additional investment in the poor, almost 70 million children will die from preventable causes by 2030

Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) Noah Chipeta rides his bicycle from the Chanthunthu community clinic to the nearest health centre, which is 17 kilometres away, in order to restock medical supplies at the clinic in rural Kasungu District, Malawi | Credit: UNICEF

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28 2017 (IPS)

Investing in the health of the poorest communities saves almost twice as many lives, according to a UN agency’s analysis.

In a new report titled “Narrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Poorest Children,” the UN’s Children Agency (UNICEF) found that increased access to health among poor communities saves more lives and is more cost-effective than in non-poor communities.

“It is critical to focus on the poorer populations, especially in terms of health and nutrition,” Senior Advisor for UNICEF and the report’s author Carlos Carrera told IPS.

Impoverished children are nearly twice as likely to die before reaching their fifth birthday than children growing up in better circumstances. A majority of these deaths are preventable, but lack of access to critical health services make them all too common.

However, UNICEF has found that health gaps between poor and non-poor communities have narrowed in over 50 countries and that improved access to health interventions among poor communities have helped decrease child mortality three times faster than among non-poor groups.

Since birth rates are higher among the poor, the reduction in the under-five mortality rate translates into 4.2 more lives saved for every million people.

In fact, over one million people, a majority of whom lived in poverty, were saved during the final year of the 51 countries studied.

Unless progress on reducing child mortality accelerates, which can only be achieved with focus and additional investment in the poor, almost 70 million children will die from preventable causes by 2030

UNICEF-supported mobile health team providing essential basic health services to remote and isolated communities, with a special focus on maternal and neonatal care | Credit: UNICEF

Such live-saving health interventions include increased provision of basic medication, skilled birth attendance, full immunisation programmes, and even free health services.

In Bangladesh, new policies including the establishment of free community clinics and targeted sanitation and hygiene interventions have helped decrease under-five mortality by almost 75 percent.

Carrera pointed to Sierra Leone as another successful example as it introduced services targeting the major killers of vulnerable children and women, including insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, birth attendance, and immunisation.

Between 2000 and 2013, the West African nation achieved up to 25 percent increases in some intervention coverages among the poor.

“By combining all of these different methods, they managed to improve coverage of all these high impact interventions in poor populations,” Carrera stated.

However, the 2014-2015 Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone potentially set back decades of progress in the country, and serves as a reminder for the need for sustained investment in community health systems.

Though it is more expensive to reach marginalised populations due to barriers such as distance and lack of roads or infrastructure, the benefits outweigh the costs, Carrera noted.

For every one million dollars invested, the number of deaths averted is 1.8 times higher among the poor than the non-poor.

“It is more costly, we accept that, but it is so much more effective because of the higher burden of diseases and higher risk for the health of poor children and women that it saves many more lives,” Carrera told IPS.

As a result, he advised governments to utilise an equity approach to identify populations and causes of death in order to design targeted interventions to reach and include the most vulnerable.

“That will be the most efficient way to use their resources—not just the most equitable, but also the most efficient,” Carrera added, noting that this is the only way for governments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The internationally adopted SDGs, whose motto is to ‘leave no one behind’ includes targets to reduce preventable deaths of children and provide equitable access to quality and affordable health care services for all, especially those who have not been reached.

Unless progress on reducing child mortality accelerates, which can only be achieved with focus and additional investment in the poor, almost 70 million children will die from preventable causes by 2030.

“With so much at stake – and so many lives hanging in the balance – we cannot afford to ignore this new evidence,” UNICEF stated.

UNICEF’s study draws on data from 2003 to 2016 in 51 countries where around 80 percent of all newborn and under-five deaths occur.

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“Big Reflection” Needed on Opioid Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:26:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151003 Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency. In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world. In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at […]

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Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency UNODC

Intravenous drug users in Pakistan. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency.

In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world.

In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at least once. Of these, almost 30 million suffered from drug use disorders including dependence. UNODC found that opioids were the most harmful drug type, accounting for 70 percent of negative health impacts associated with drug use disorders worldwide, and its production is only increasing.

“[Opioid use] is a really dramatic epidemic…they are really, in terms of burden of disease, at the top of the scale,” said UNODC’s Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch Gilberto Gerra to IPS.

The use of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, heighten the risks of acquiring diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C through unsafe injecting practices as well as overdoses and death.

Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 premature deaths related to drugs that were mostly avoidable. A large proportion of those deaths is attributed to the use of opioids.

Though affects many countries in the world, the opioid crisis is particularly prevalent in the United States.

Mostly driven by opioids, approximately one quarter of the estimated drug-related deaths worldwide occur in the U.S.

Overdose deaths in the North American nation more than tripled from almost 17,000 to over 52,000 annually between 1999 and 2015, and increased by 11 percent in the past year alone, reaching the highest level ever recorded.

In fact, more Americans died from the misuse of opioids in 2016 than in the entirety of the Vietnam War, noted Gerra.

In the state of Maryland, opioid-related deaths quadrupled since 2010 and deaths from fentanyl increased 38-fold in the past decade. In response to the crisis, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, stating: “We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency…this is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

Though some states have begun the place restrictions on the accessibility of pharmaceutical opioids, including a Florida bill that aims to restrict painkiller prescriptions to a five-day supply, Gerra stressed the importance of focusing on not only supply, but also the demand side of opioids.

“If so many people are consuming this opioid medication including legal opioids from the pharmacy, when you restrict the pharmacy’s opioid medication, they will start to turn to things like heroin,” he told IPS.

In the U.S., heroin use has increased significantly, and the Centers for Disease Control has suggested that it is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

“There needs to be a big reflection on this issue in North America,” Gerra said.

However, the potential changes in healthcare in the U.S. may impact access to treatment.

In particular, the current health care bill proposes cuts to expanded Medicaid, which is used by many states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic to boost their response by paying for medication, therapy, and other treatment services.

Health advocates criticised the proposed cuts during President Trump’s first meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which is charged with finding solutions for the epidemic.

“If we make it harder for people to get health care coverage, it is going to make this crisis worse,” said North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper.

A similar scenario is found around the world as availability of and access to treatment of drug use disorders remain limited. Fewer than one in six persons with drug use disorders are provided with treatment each year, UNODC found.

Gerra highlighted the importance of treatment, pointing to the need for personalised interventions and close supervision by doctors or therapists in order to avoid opioid misuse.

He also added that people possessing drugs for personal consumption should not be criminalised as it steers them away from seeking treatment for fear of punishment.

Though approaches to global drug policy have been contentious and diverse, countries in the General Assembly session on the world drug problem (UNGASS) in 2016 unanimously agreed for the first time to a people-centered approach which sees the drug problem as a health disorder rather than a criminal or moral issue.

“We cannot respond to people trapped by drugs with a punitive approach. We have to tell them that we are here, we are aware of your condition and behaviour, you are aware that you are in trouble, please come and we will do what we can to help you and your family to overcome this problem in a very humane and human-rights, science-based way,” Gerra told IPS.

Gerra called for a continuum of care approach to help keep people using drugs like heroin safe through services like needle exchange programs and to provide long-term accessible and affordable treatment once users are ready.

“No one should be left behind in the delivery of prevention and treatment interventions,” UNODC said in its report.

Gerra noted that prevention is by far the most cost-effective intervention in the long run, but approaches must be science-based in order to be effective.

“People don’t understand that there is a science behind prevention—they continue to use initiatives that are well-intentioned but completely not science-based [and] then they say prevention is not working,” he said, pointing to science-based methodologies such as life skills education and drug education to children.

The globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is to leave no one behind, includes a target to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

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Sexual Violence Fuels Vicious Recruitment Cycle in Congolese Militiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 20:00:45 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150988 In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them. Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among […]

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While measures such as the Child Protection Code brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girl soldiers

Former soldiers who have returned to school successfully in Congo. Credit: Child Soldiers International

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them.

Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among these violent defensive militias in DRC, also known as Mai Mai, girls accounted for up to 40 percent of all underage soldiers.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, celebrated June 19 and commemorated three years ago by the UN, Child Soldiers International (CSI) released an important report outlining the aftermath of this violence.

“I left [to join the Mai Mai] after they raped my mother in front of all of us, even my father. I felt shame, pity, anger. One day I decided to take up arms to avenge my mother,” a former girl soldier, who is 19, explained.

Most of the girls, who were interviewed in early 2016, were abducted by groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), M23, and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

At a young age, the girls often endured sexual violence, which became a routine event.

“Sometimes I didn’t even know the name of the man who abused me at night,” said a 16-year-old girl. “I wanted to escape but saw what they did to those who tried… I was too scared.”

While measures such as the Child Protection Code of 2009 brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girls.

Things didn’t get much better at home. The girls were often shunned by their families, and blamed for their status as victims as of sexual assault.

“Not two days goes by without neighbours making us feel we have known men,” a 14-year-old girl said. “We are not allowed to associate with their daughters.”

Facing a lack of aid or counseling, many went back to the groups. They long to speak with their families, and go to school, the report says. Instead, they are turned away. This injures their psyche, and can lead to low self-esteem. More has to be done, Sandra Olsson, the programme manager at CSI, told IPS.

“Community reintegration and tackling the stigma and rejection these girls face needs to be at the centre of reintegration programmes for these girls. We hope that our research and recommendations will help the DRC government develop girl specific reintegration strategies,” she said.

The report, she told IPS, hopes to raise awareness, provide long term assistance to the girls, and finally, end sexual violence in conflicts.

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Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Kenya through Innovative Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:56:55 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150956 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Kenya through Innovative Financing

Right to health as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and; contribution to economic development as envisioned in Vision 2030. Credit: JACARANDA HEALTH

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

Every year, one million Kenyans are driven below the poverty line by healthcare-related expenditures. Poverty predisposes them to disease and slows all aspects of growth in the economy.

Poor health hobbles economic growth. Noble Laureate in Economics Robert Fogel noted in 1993 that better diets, clothing, housing and quality healthcare all play an important role in generating economic growth. Strengthening healthcare systems to increase access to affordable, appropriate and quality health services in any country is a prerequisite for long-term development and structural transformation.

Africa accounts for a quarter of the world’s disease burden but has less than 5 per cent of the world’s doctors. The continent lags far behind in basic healthcare coverage for services such as immunization, water and sanitation, and family planning. Kenya is no exception.

The new Kenyan Constitution devolved responsibility for primary and secondary healthcare services to the newly demarcated 47 counties, leaving the national government to focus on policy and research.

Kenya’s health financing envelope is progressing gradually but falls short of the 2001 Abuja Declaration, in which nations committed to allocating 15 per cent of their national budget to the health sector. In fact, Kenya is outperformed by some of its neighbours in the national budget allocation to health sector. In fiscal year 2014/15, Uganda allocated 8 per cent of its national budget to the health sector compared to Kenya’s 4 per cent.

Kenya’s allocation has been increasing every fiscal year, rising for instance from about US$178.8 million (Ksh 15.2 billion) in 2001/02 to US$382.2 million (Ksh 34.4 billion) in 2008/09 based on exchange rate then. In the current fiscal year, Kenya allocated around US$597 million (Ksh 60.9 billion) for healthcare services compared to US$591.2 million (Ksh 60.3 billion) for fiscal year 2016/17. This is projected to increase in the medium term to US$606.9 million (Ksh 61.9 billion) and US$614.7 million (Ksh 62.7 billion) for 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively.

The challenges confronting the health sector range from the spread of non-communicable diseases to inadequate funding of health interventions. The devolution of healthcare services, coupled with the Bill of Rights, elicits huge funding demands, making the sustainability of gains made so far in the sector more complex.

In 2015, the international community formally enshrined UHC in Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide development efforts through 2030.

Partnering with mobile phone service providers and charging a small fee for targeted healthcare initiatives can generate the necessary resources to support Universal Health Coverage in the country.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Credit: UNDP

In its Vision 2030, Kenya committed to becoming a competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life for all its citizens by 2030. Investing in a quality health delivery system is enshrined in the Vision, an area in which the government has made considerable progress.

Revamping the national health insurance scheme to comprise everyone capable of paying premiums, rather than only those in formal employment has shifted the burden of healthcare costs from the individual to the collective by raising more money for healthcare services.

Nevertheless, four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance. That is why Kenya needs to adopt more innovative ways of financing its healthcare system.

The 2014 World Bank Group’s Kenya Public Expenditure Review considers the private sector a lead in local healthcare markets. This is because it owns 60 per cent of all primary healthcare facilities, while 40 per cent are government-run. Leveraging this strategic position of the private sector, public-private partnerships (PPP) can be institutionalized for financing UHC in Kenya.

One such case in point is the strong PPP established in 2015 by six private sector companies (Philips, Merck Sharp & Dohme-MSD, GlaxoSmithKline-GSK, Safaricom, Kenya Health Care Federation and Huawei) to improve maternal health in historically marginalized counties. This initiative – targeting Mandera, Marsabit, Migori, Isiolo, Lamu and Wajir and spearheaded by the Government of Kenya and the UN – has yielded positive health outcomes. Similar approaches can be adopted for the health system at both national and county levels.

Kenya is known for developing innovative home-grown solutions to challenges. It can easily move towards a cashless economy, which will be critical for driving Kenya’s socio-economic transformation agenda.

For instance, M-pesa was conceived to address the challenge of rural banking but it has also provided a platform for M-health, the use of mobile devices to support the practice of medicine and public health.

Kenya can institute targeted taxation as an innovative financing policy to complement existing financing mechanisms. Partnering with mobile phone service providers and charging a small fee for targeted healthcare initiatives can generate the necessary resources to support UHC in the country.

An estimated US$122.5 million (Ksh 12.5 billion) is transacted daily in the form of mobile money transactions. By contributing roughly one percent on a graduated scale, Kenya can easily raise US$ 1.2 million (Ksh 125 million) daily to finance UHC.

For example UNITAID, an International Drug Purchase Facility for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria is supported mainly (70%) through the airline ticket tax. The airline solidarity contribution is an innovative attempt to gain the benefits of a global tax. Kenya can do the same by charging a small tax at its international airports and border crossings for a ring fenced public health account.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “All roads should lead to universal health coverage.” Credit: UN/DANIEL JOHNSON

There is no one-size-fits-all health financing solution. And Kenya must continuously adapt in the face of rapid technological changes.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new WHO Director-General has said that, “all roads should lead to universal health coverage.” With its technological prowess, a hotspot for innovation, incredible entrepreneurial spirit and enterprise, Kenya must be at the vanguard on the road to universal health care in Africa.

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Women, Still Major Victims of Sharp Disparities at Workplaceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/women-still-major-victims-sharp-disparities-workplaces/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-major-victims-sharp-disparities-workplaces http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/women-still-major-victims-sharp-disparities-workplaces/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:37:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150905 Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues, according to a United Nations report, ahead of the UN Labour Organization’s Summit on “A better future for women at work” on June 15. The new report released by the […]

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Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues

The ILO encourages decent employment opportunities. Credit: ILO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues, according to a United Nations report, ahead of the UN Labour Organization’s Summit on “A better future for women at work” on June 15.

The new report released by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) informs that even though women are significantly less likely to participate in the labour market than men, once they manage to enter the labour market, finding work remains even more difficult for them their male counterparts.

Helping women access the labour market is nevertheless an important first step,” said ILO, noting that in 2017, the global labour force participation rate for women –at just over 49 per cent– is nearly 27 percentage points lower than for men.

This figure is forecast to remain unchanged in 2018.

ILO on June 15 held a Summit on “A better future for women at work” in Geneva to discuss how to shape a better future for women at work.

Further recalling the commitment expressed by leaders of the Group of the 20 most industrialised countries (G20) in 2014, to reduce the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by the year 2025, the ILO report World Employment and Social Outlook Trends for Women 2017, estimates that some 5.8 trillion dollars could be added to the world economy.

Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues

A woman walks to work in Singapore. Credit: ILO/Giorgio Taraschi

“This could also unlock large potential tax revenues, in particular in countries in the North Africa, Arab and Southern Asia regions.”

In addition to the significant economic benefits, engaging more women in the world of work would have a positive impact on their well-being since most women would like to work.

“The fact that half of women worldwide are out of the labour force when 58 per cent of them would prefer to work at paid jobs is a strong indication that there are significant challenges restricting their capabilities and freedom to participate,” said Deborah Greenfield, the ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy.

“The most immediate concern for policy makers, therefore, should be to alleviate the constraints that women face in choosing to enter the labour market and address the barriers they are confronted with once they are in the workplace,” she added.

Attitudes on Women and Men ‘Roles’ Have to Change

Furthermore, the ILO report also highlights the need to “redefine the roles” of men and women at the workplace.

“We need to start by changing our attitudes towards the role of women in the world of work and in society. Far too often some members of society still fall back on the excuse that it is ‘unacceptable’ for a woman to have a paid job,” said Steven Tobin, the lead author of the report.

The report also emphasises the need to promote equal pay for work of equal value; tackle root causes of occupational and sectoral segregation; recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work; as well as transforming institutions to prevent and eliminate discrimination, violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work.

Policies should also address the socio-economic factors that influence participation by introducing policies that improve work-family balance, create and protect quality jobs in the care economy and target the macroeconomic environment and informal economy, according to Tobin.

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The “Shocking” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S.http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 16:44:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150823 While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States. Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States.

Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained legal.

“These are old laws that were just never changed because people didn’t realize this was happening,” said Fraidy Reiss, the Executive Director of Unchained at Last, an organization fighting to end child marriage in the U.S.

Based on available data, Unchained at Last estimates that over quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Data shows girls as young as 12 years old married in states like Alaska, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The Tahirih Justice Center, which helps protect women and girls from gender-based violence, found that Texas has the second highest rates of child marriages in the nation, as nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 were married between 2000 and 2014.

The majority of those wedded at a young age are girls, and approximately 77 percent of U.S. children who were wed were married to adult men, often with significant age differences.

Such cases often cut across various religions, ethnic backgrounds, and circumstances, from one 15-year-old whose Muslim family forced her to marry a 23-year-old man because she was found dating someone of a different background in Nevada to a girl’s Christian community in Colorado pressuring her to get married because she was pregnant.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking,” Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division Heather Barr told IPS, noting that child marriage is an issue on every continent with similar consequences.

“The harm that happens to a child that gets married in New York state is not that different from the harm that happens to a child getting married in the Central African Republic,” she said.

Child marriage is strongly linked to high rates of school dropouts and poverty, and those married before the age of 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than those married at 21 or older.

Women and girls married at a young age also often experience physical and mental health problems, including higher rates of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections.

Reiss told IPS how forced marriage takes a toll on the mental health of girls as many turn to suicide. Others just give up and continue with the marriage because of the lack of options.

“They know that going along with a marriage means that they are going to be raped on their wedding night and raped thereafter, they are going to pulled out of school—all their dreams for their future are gone,” she said.

Though the minimum age is 18, most states allow those younger than 18 to marry with parental or judicial consent. However, both Reiss and Barr told IPS that such ideas of consent are problematic and “ridiculous.”

“Child marriages are very often arranged or forced by parents, so in a situation where it is actually the parents who are forcing a child to get married, parental consent is completely meaningless,” said Barr.

As for judicial consent, the law does not specify any criteria that a judge is required to consider before approving a marriage.

In 27 states, laws do not specify any age below which a child cannot marry.

“The minimum age for marriage is effectively lowered to zero,” said Reiss.

There has been a push in recent years to end child marriage domestically.

In May, Texas’ legislature passed a bill that identifies 18 as the legal age to marriage. Though it allows those younger than 18 to marry, they can only do so if a judge has found that they live on their own and are no longer dependent on guardians to support themselves. It is currently awaiting signature from the state’s governor Greg Abbott in order to go into full effect.

In New York, the Senate passed a bill on child marriage which must now be approved by the state’s Assembly. The bill, which is expected to pass, raises the minimum marriage age from 14 to 17.

While Barr was hopeful that it will pass, Reiss criticised the bill noting that 17-year-olds are still children.

“This notion of allowing 17-year-olds to marry because legislators assuming that it is somehow less reprehensible than a 7-year-old getting married—it’s not,” she told IPS.

Such issues with legislatures are also happening elsewhere as states continue to push back on ending child marriage.

In March, New Hampshire rejected a bill to increase the age of marriage to 18 on the grounds that it would hurt pregnant teenagers and young military members, leaving the minimum age at 13.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that banned marriage under the age of 18 on the ground that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.”

Both Reiss and Barr condemned the move, noting that child marriage has nothing to do with religion.

“This isn’t an issue about tradition, it’s an issue about human rights,” Barr told IPS.

She added that it is hypocritical that the U.S. as a donor nation criticises other countries when they themselves have weak protections against child marriage.

“It really undermines their credibility…we think that reform on this issue in the U.S. and other countries in the West that are donor countries can help support the global effort as well,” Barr said.

In 2016, The U.S Department of State called child marriage a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” Reiss added, highlighting the urgency for states to end child marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, 1.5 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. If such trends continue, the number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.

Among the targets of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to eliminate all harmful practices including child, early, and forced marriage.

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AIDS Pandemic Far From Over: 37 Million Living with HIV Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aids-pandemic-far-from-over-37-million-living-with-hiv-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-pandemic-far-from-over-37-million-living-with-hiv-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aids-pandemic-far-from-over-37-million-living-with-hiv-globally/#respond Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:37:46 +0000 Amina Mohammed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150714 Amina J. Mohammed is UN Deputy Secretary-General who addressed the General Assembly’s Annual AIDS Review meeting.

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Amina J. Mohammed is UN Deputy Secretary-General who addressed the General Assembly’s Annual AIDS Review meeting.

By Amina J. Mohammed
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2017 (IPS)

During the process of developing the Sustainable Development Goals it was clear to me how relevant and innovative the approach to ending AIDS had been and how important it would continue to be.

Amina J. Mohammed

Amina J. Mohammed

Achieving our aims on AIDS is interlinked and embedded within the broader 2030 Agenda. Both are grounded in equity, human rights and a promise to leave no one behind.

In June 2016, Member States adopted the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, the AIDS pandemic is far from over.

UNAIDS estimates that more than 36.7 million people are living with HIV globally.

While more than 18 million are now on life-saving treatment, this is just half of those who need it, and there is no decline in the number of new infections each year.

People living with HIV who are on treatment can now expect the same life expectancy as someone who is not infected.

That is why a life-cycle approach to HIV is so important, to ensure that people have access to the services they need at every stage of life.

The world has the scientific knowledge and experience to reach people with HIV options tailored to the realities of their lives.

I am happy to report that, today, more babies than ever are being born free from HIV.

Now we need to do a better job of reaching young women and adolescent girls.

This is particularly true for sub-Saharan Africa, where adolescent girls account for three out of four new HIV infections among 15 to 19-year-olds.

Women’s and girls’ heightened vulnerability to HIV is intimately linked to entrenched gender-based inequalities and harmful social attitudes.

We also need to ensure a more integrated approach to HIV programme delivery.

In particular, we need to integrate HIV, sexual and reproductive health programmes, including family planning.

Just as we must reach young women, we have to make it easier for other key populations to access health services.

Injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men are 10-24 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general population. Ending AIDS fits squarely within the 2030 Agenda.

The global commitments we have made to eliminate gender inequalities, to promote, protect, respect and fulfil all human rights, and to achieve universal health coverage, mutually reinforce efforts to eradicate AIDS.

The AIDS response has led the way for evidence-based policy and programming. I hope the voluntary national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July will reflect the lessons learned at the national level in responding to AIDS.

I urge Member States to heed UNAIDS’ call for a grand prevention coalition that stimulates action across the five pillars of HIV prevention. We still need a further $7 billion dollars to reach our targets for preventing and treating HIV.

This translates to about 50 cents per person per year globally between now and 2030. This small per capita increase in investment could generate significant returns — an additional 21.7 million HIV infections prevented and 8.8 million AIDS-related deaths averted.

The economic benefits of such an intervention would generate an 8 to 1 return on investment due to better health and reduced mortality.

I am proud to see how the United Nations and UNAIDS, under the leadership of its Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibé, are committed to finding new and better approaches to end this epidemic.

I hope to see our investment in ending the AIDS epidemic and saving lives translate into political and financial investment in UNAIDS. This entity embodies many of the critical elements that we are seeking to incorporate into our broader UN reform efforts.

These include establishing a culture of accountability and strong performance management, with a focus on delivery rather than process and on people rather than bureaucracy.

In conclusion, let me emphasize the importance of grounding success at the country and community levels.

Let us always approach political decisions and meetings such as this with communities in mind.

In recognizing the importance of community-driven solutions and the global commitment to people-centred systems for health, I encourage you to listen closely to what communities need and have to say.

If we do that, we can end AIDS.

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Africa Drives Global Action Against Mercury Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-drives-global-action-against-mercury-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-drives-global-action-against-mercury-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-drives-global-action-against-mercury-use/#comments Tue, 30 May 2017 10:56:02 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150646 With a new international treaty, an increasing number of African countries are committing to phasing out mercury, a significant health and environmental hazard. Research has shown that maternal exposure to mercury from contaminated fish can cause learning disabilities in developing babies. When inhaled, mercury vapor can also affect the central nervous system, impair mental capacity […]

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Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria is keen on phasing out mercury-added products. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria is keen on phasing out mercury-added products. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 30 2017 (IPS)

With a new international treaty, an increasing number of African countries are committing to phasing out mercury, a significant health and environmental hazard.

Research has shown that maternal exposure to mercury from contaminated fish can cause learning disabilities in developing babies. When inhaled, mercury vapor can also affect the central nervous system, impair mental capacity and, depending on levels of exposure, even lead to death."The ripple effect of using mercury is very costly in both human health and harm to the environment.” --Olubunmi Olusanya

“Despite the danger that mercury poses, it is still widely used, especially in Africa, and this is of great concern,” says Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria.

He told IPS that “While Africa does not manufacture mercury added products, the continent is a leading importer of mercury. The ripple effect of using mercury is very costly in both human health and harm to the environment.”

It is within this context that the Zero Mercury Working Group recently held a series of meetings in Nairobi, Kenya to address phasing out of mercury.

The Zero Mercury Working Group is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries around the world, with several NGO members coming from African countries.

“Phasing out mercury will mean replacing mercury added products such as thermometers, thermostats and batteries with alternatives, but it also means reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining,” explains Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, International Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group.

According to the Zero Mercury Working Group, artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM)  is a complex global development issue. It uses and releases substantial amounts of mercury in mineral processing, usually in highly unsafe and environmentally hazardous conditions.

Haji Rehani, a Senior Programme Officer at the Agenda for Environment and Response Development in Tanzania, who works closely with artisanal and small scale gold mining communities, says, “This kind of mining is the largest demand sector for mercury globally.”

He says that mercury is used to bind the gold to form an amalgam, which helps separate it from the rock, sand and other materials. The amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury, exposing miners and contaminating the environment while leaving the gold behind.

“There is a need to engage as many stakeholders as possible from the miners all the way to governments,” he advises.

He told IPS that African governments have shown the greatest worldwide commitment to addressing mercury as a health hazard and to ultimately phase it out.

Rehani says that this commitment has been demonstrated through Africa’s active involvement in the adoption of the Minamata Convention on mercury in October 2013, when 128 countries signed on.

“This legally binding agreement was developed and adopted to protect human life and environment from mercury emissions. It has clear time-bound targets for phasing out the manufacture, export or import of a number of mercury added products specified in the Convention,” he expounds.

At the moment, 52 countries have ratified the Convention, marking a significant milestone since the Convention requires at least 50 countries to ratify in order for the treaty to enter into force.

The Convention will therefore come into effect in the next 90 days. This further reinforces the significance of the zero mercury conference, which provided a platform for cross-country knowledge sharing towards reducing and eventually eliminating the use of mercury in all sectors.

Desiree Narvaez of the UN Environment Chemicals and Health Branch explained the need for stakeholders to have a platform to address mercury as a global health and environment issue, noting that such platforms are essential for governments to understand the devastating impact of mercury use.

Of the 52 countries, Africa is ahead of every other continent with 19 countries ratifying the Convention.

Anne Lillian Nakafeero from Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority. Credt: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Anne Lillian Nakafeero from Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority. Credt: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The Zero Mercury Working Group has major ongoing intervention projects in, for instance, Nigeria and Mauritius, focusing on phasing out mercury added products by 2020 as stipulated in the Minamata Convention.

Other Zero Mercury projects are also in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania where the main focus has been reducing and eventually eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining.

These projects are also keen on protecting vulnerable populations, and specifically women and children.

Experts at the conference reiterated the fact that the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining continues to rise, especially in developing countries, mainly because it is considered simple and inexpensive – producing 20 to 30 percent of the world’s gold.

The Zero Mercury Working Group estimates that 15 million people in approximately 70 countries are employed in artisanal and small scale gold mining, with many exposed to mercury. Four to five million of them are vulnerable women and children.

As a result, there is a need for concerted efforts to protect such disadvantaged populations and for countries to ensure that their respective National Action Plans emphasize the protection of such vulnerable groups when implementing the Convention.

There was significant emphasis during the Nairobi conference on the need for governments to develop and implement the Convention, which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury.

A key stakeholder during the conference and indeed in global efforts to phase out mercury is the United Nations Environment Global Mercury Partnership (UN Environment).

Within the context of the Minamata Convention the focus of the UN Environment Global Mercury Partnership has shifted to support crucial areas of the treaty.

This includes banning  a number of listed mercury added products by 2020, with the exception of a Party registering an exemption.

Reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of mercury in small scale gold mining is expected to be done progressively, with the objective achieved in about 15 years.

The meeting brought together many government officials and stakeholders in a one-day forum held on the heels of the Zero Mercury conference to develop their own road maps for phasing out mercury under the Minamata Convention by 2020.

This included 35 delegates from 31 countries, representatives of seven United Nations and intergovernmental agencies, 15 NGOs and five other delegates from academics, private sector and consultants.

It emerged from the meetings and experience sharing that there is a great need for country-specific laws to explicitly outlaw the use of mercury in products and taking voluntary steps to significantly reduce mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining, since the treaty doesn’t specifically ban it.

For example, Uganda has signed the Minamata Convention and is in the process of developing a National Action Plan for reducing mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining. While this will take this East African nation a step closer towards phasing out mercury, there is no legislation in place outlawing the use of mercury.

“In this regard, stakeholders must embrace as many partnerships as possible. Mercury is a cross-cutting issue and one single entity cannot address this agenda. We need the government, Civil Society Organizations, miners and others as was demonstrated during the Zero Mercury conference,” said Anne Lillian Nakafeero from the National Environment Management Authority in Uganda.

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Time To Focus On ‘Hidden Hunger’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 16:13:05 +0000 Bev Postma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150605 Bev Postma is the CEO of HarvestPlus. She has 25 years of experience as a policy expert in international food systems, nutrition and food security.

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Children, Kafue, Zambia. Credit: Brian Moonga/IPS

By Bev Postma
WASHINGTON DC, May 26 2017 (IPS)

As World Hunger Day May 28 approaches, it is time for us all to redouble our efforts to reach the goal of Zero Hunger by prioritizing the battle against micronutrient deficiency. If the international community pulls together this year to incorporate proven solutions such as biofortifying crops into the UN framework for sustainable development, we could reduce malnutrition on a truly global scale.

Previous UN-led efforts, including the Millennium Development Goals, and the current Sustainable Development Goals set targets for countries to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. With the support of multiple UN initiatives and partners, the number of undernourished people in developing countries has decreased by nearly half since 1990. This is encouraging.

However, one-third of the world’s population continues to suffer from ‘hidden hunger,’ caused by a lack of essential vitamins and minerals. Even if people have enough calories to eat, they can still suffer from ‘hidden hunger’ if their only food options do not contain the necessary micronutrients.

Zinc, vitamin A and iron are three of the more important micronutrients for health, according to the World Health Organization. Each of these nutrients play a critical role in normal body functions. A diet lacking in these nutrients presents a major threat to human health, potentially causing stunting, decreased cognitive ability, diarrheal disease, auto-immune deficiency, blindness and early child mortality. Around 375,000 children go blind each year as a result of a lack of vitamin A; and zinc deficiency causes 450,000 deaths annually.

More than 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger globally, and there is a ripple effect that has consequences for the entire population. The World Bank estimates that in Pakistan malnutrition costs the country $7.6 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP annually. Likewise, the African Union estimates that Rwanda loses more than 11 percent of its GDP due to child undernutrition alone.

Countries with high levels of malnutrition must contend with these cumulative effects of high healthcare costs and lost productivity wherever they are in the world.

There are a number of solutions to address micronutrient deficiency, but crop biofortification can reach communities where traditional supplementation and food fortification potentially cannot. Growing more nutritious versions of everyday food crops is a simple, sustainable and cost-effective solution that does not place any undue burden on farmers. These biofortified crops are also widely accepted by consumers, as extensive research is done to ensure the crops look and taste similar to the traditional varieties.

HarvestPlus has spent the past 14 years working with leading research institutes to prove that biofortified crops, which contain greater quantities of vitamin A, iron and zinc than standard varieties, can reach communities that need them.

In India, iron-biofortified pearl millet provides children with 70 percent of daily iron requirements. More than a million Indian farmers have embraced the more nutritious variety, which is also high yielding and drought tolerant, providing farmers with a more stable income while simultaneously bolstering their family’s nutrition.

A study of iron-deficient women between the ages of 18 and 27 in Rwanda proved that eating biofortified beans high in iron reversed iron deficiency in just four-and-a-half months. In a region plagued by hot weather and drought, iron beans present the added benefit of being high yielding, drought resistant and heat tolerant.

Countries across the world are already embracing the science of biofortification. The government of Zambia launched a campaign to get schools to grow and feed their students vitamin A-biofortified orange maize, while Brazil is distributing biofortified crops to schools through its states’ school feeding programs.

In Uganda, five iron-rich bean varieties were released last year as part of the government’s strategy to tackle malnutrition and reduce anemia, especially in children and expectant mothers. These countries, among many others, have chosen to implement a proven, cost-effective solution to address micronutrient deficiency and they are relying on international organizations like the United Nations to provide additional support.

Earlier this year, HarvestPlus made a public commitment to work with UN agencies and member states to be part of the decade of action on nutrition. In line with our commitment, we are calling on all governments and institutions to help us scale up the introduction of biofortified foods by bridging the gap that exists between agriculture and nutrition.

If we can work with the UN, national governments and farming communities to encourage the adoption of this breakthrough innovation, we can help lift one billion people out of poverty and hidden hunger just by providing access to a diverse and nutritious diet.

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Menstrual Health and Vitality: Breaking the Silence, Stemming the Floodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 21:17:36 +0000 Archana Patkar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150541 Archana Patkar is Programme Manager on Equality & Non-Discrimination at the UN Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)

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Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Archana Patkarv
GENEVA, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere. But it still matters so much more to women and girls, who have historically been asked to bleed in stoic silence so that no one even knows they have their period.

It is slowly but surely becoming socially acceptable to start talking about periods, a biological fact as old as womankind itself— even as the United Nations commemorates Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.

Society is finally coming of age and suddenly everyone is coming out about their vaginas.

At the Women Deliver conference in 2016, Jessica Biel bemoaned the world’s reluctance to talk openly about women’s bodies. “[Body talk is] very shameful, and that’s the problem — why is it so shameful?” she asked. “I feel completely embarrassed talking about this stuff, even with my gynecologist, and why is that? It makes no sense. I am here because I want to pull the stigmas off female reproductive everything.”

For every celebrity willing to break the silence, slow and steady web chatter is successfully whittling down those deep prejudices and walls that we have built at the intersection of multiple biases. Take male sexual identity and preference and add a monthly period to it, and what do you get? Even transgender guys have to deal with their periods at some point or another. And yet, it’s not something we talk about — most of us are ashamed. This shows that silence and shame are not the prerogative of the feminine. Stigma and shame also creep into men’s worlds all the time and everywhere.

In order to truly break the silence and ensure that periods are moved from the shameful to the shared, we must do more than stem the flow, we can actually run with it, red with glory. Musician and activist Kiran Gandhi recently ran the London Marathon in 2015 while bleeding freely .

Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer who finished fourth in the women’s 4X100 metres medley relay at the Rio Olympics, made headlines for telling the world she was on her period. The more we are open about it, the more normal it will be, but it will take more than a handful of celebrities to spread the word.

So why this personal blood rush? In 2004, perplexed by the reluctance and deep resistance to speaking the ‘M’ word, I thought long and hard of a practical, action oriented entry point to simply take stock of who was finally talking about menstruation in their day to day work? What was preventing us from doing something about this shocking silence and injustice? How could we continue to see girls stay away from school, just because they had their monthly period?

I coined the term Menstrual Hygiene and Management as a practical mix of information and practices that would together could ensure a safe and dignified menstrual period. Fast forward to a fabulous confluence of evidence and action, champions, policies and practices, media, and businesses that have joined in to break the silence and stigma on periods.

United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore reminds us that the denial of rights is a learned behavior, and therefore can just as easily all be unlearned. This won’t be easy. Centuries of silence, shame, restriction, coercion and injustice will need to be banished from our psyches. Is every teacher, parent and peer listening? Can we make sure that we unlearn these stereotypes without building new silos in their stead?

The development community is used to working in strict boxes – some ‘do’ HIV; some do ‘gender’ and others ‘do’ WASH, health, education, jobs, or sexual reproductive rights. Instead, let’s do away with all prejudice, amnesia and blindness.

Human beings come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Coming out of the ‘bloody closet’ is a pathway for us all to talk more about our bodies in all their glory and therefore with all the intendant travails. Maybe we can better acknowledge the leaky closet, together with the wonders of stress incontinence during pregnancy or post-menopausal leakages?

Maybe we can add a healthy dose of fresh, clean mindsets at home, and have open conversations around the intimate and the personal. And maybe, since this requires no special funding, no projects, no extraordinary professional training or academic rigour and since it is so super simple—maybe, just maybe we can embrace humanity in its glorious diversity for generations to come.

Whether in sign language or braille, Wolof or Mandarin, it is not difficult to take the pledge, break the silence, and make sure that we replace the stigma and shame of menstruation with dignity and pride.

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The ‘Public’ in Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-public-in-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 22:08:43 +0000 Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150532 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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By Vani S. Kulkarni
PHILADELPHIA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

 

The discourse must move beyond a top-down approach to listen to the people and formulate best insurance practices

Much ink has been spilled in documenting the inadequacy of budgetary allocations for public health insurance, specifically for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the world’s largest publicly-funded health insurance (PFHI) scheme. Though the 2017-18 budget allocation has marginally increased from last year’s revised estimates, it has declined relative to last year’s budgeted amount by about ₹500 crore. However, higher budgetary allocation can only constitute a small part of the solution to the scheme’s mixed, if not lacklustre, performance.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

Under the scheme, a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family of five is entitled to more than 700 treatments and procedures at government-set prices, for an annual enrolment fee of ₹30. However, even nine years after its implementation, it has failed to cover a large number of targeted families — almost three-fifths of them. Their exclusion has been due to factors like the prevalent discrimination against disadvantaged groups; a lack of mandate on insurance companies to achieve higher enrolment rates; and an absence of oversight by government agencies.

Increase in hospitalisation
True, there has been a substantial increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is unclear if it has enabled people to access the genuinely needed, and hitherto unaffordable, inpatient care. Often, doctors and hospitals have colluded in performing unnecessary surgical procedures on patients to claim insurance money. For instance, hospitals have claimed reimbursements worth millions of rupees for conducting hysterectomies on thousands of unsuspecting, poor women. Indeed, in the absence of regulations and standards, perverse incentives are created for empanelled hospitals to conduct surgeries. It is thus not surprising that there is no robust evidence of an improvement in health outcomes.

Evidence on the financial protection front is conflicting as well. One study revealed that poorer households in districts exposed to the RSBY and other PFHIs recorded an increase in out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditures for hospital care, and a corresponding rise in incidence of catastrophic expenditure. There is near-consensus that the RSBY has resulted in higher OOP expenditures. Though it is a cashless scheme, many users are exploited by unscrupulous hospital staff.

So, what is the solution? There is a need to bring the ‘public’ back into the discourse on public health to highlight its present culture. The conversation needs to move beyond a top-down approach specifying budget allocation and administrative and technical efficiency. It needs to involve listening to the real public to deliberate on various health practices and policies.

My ethnographic study of the RSBY in Kalaburagi and Mysuru districts between 2014 and 2016 brought to light that a top-down approach on allocation and coverage was important but, by itself, did not translate to expected outcomes. What mattered more was the existing culture of health insurance — how it was perceived, practised and experienced in the everyday, local worlds of the enrolled households. Though they valued aspects like the money available and the number of illnesses covered, they were more deeply affected by how other actors — doctors, local officials, neighbours and even relatives — related to health insurance.

Card not accepted
The disillusionment of Savitri, one of the beneficiaries, after obtaining the plastic card said it all: “If public officials only give us the card without telling us how to use it, the card is just plastic material. Sometimes information is also not correct, making us feel that the card is of no real value if we do not know how to use it.” Further, many hospitals refused to acknowledge the card’s value. Shivakumar’s observation summed it well: “We went to the hospital with the card. Not only could it not be used but also the doctors did not even acknowledge us as patients… We just brought the card home and tossed it to the shelf.” Many bemoaned the absence of public debate on health issues and the RSBY card. Deva’s pithy response was illustrative: “If it is not talked about and debated, we can only think that there is no big value that we should pay attention to.”

Households clearly separated the economic value from social ones. A section saw health insurance as a bad omen, one that announced arrival of illness. Ramesh Kumar, among those in his neighbourhood who refused to enrol, explained: “This card is not a solution for illness, it is a cause of it. You see, when you people knock on our doors to give us the card, it feels like an illness is knocking on our doors. The farther away we are from the card, the further we are from health problems.”

Overall, while the discourse on a greater allocation to RSBY and enhancement of cost-effectiveness are important, a shift of emphasis is needed, bringing the ‘public’ back into the sphere of public health.

The oped first appeared in The Hindu.

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Sexual Violence as a “Threat to Security and Durable Peace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 13:16:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150441 Sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism and thus must be addressed as a peace and security issue, officials said at a United Nations Security Council meeting. UN officials, member states, and civil society representatives came together during a Security Council debate to discuss the pervasive issues, challenges, and solutions surrounding conflict-related […]

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Mina Jaf, Founder and Executive Director of Women's Refugee Route.
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 17 2017 (IPS)

Sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism and thus must be addressed as a peace and security issue, officials said at a United Nations Security Council meeting.

UN officials, member states, and civil society representatives came together during a Security Council debate to discuss the pervasive issues, challenges, and solutions surrounding conflict-related sexual violence.

“Too many women live with a spectre of violence in their daily lives, in their households, and families. Armed conflict only serves to exacerbate these prevailing conditions,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, adding that such sexual violence is a “heart-wrenching crime.”

Executive Director of Women’s Refugee Route Mina Jaf echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “[Women] are much more vulnerable in conflict countries…and when you are more vulnerable, you face more violence.”

The secretary-general shed light on the issue in an annual report detailing numerous cases of sexual violence used for “strategic” purposes in 19 countries.

In Iraq, nearly 2,000 Yazidi women and girls remain enslaved in Islamic State (IS) territories and reports have emerged of the sale and trade of women as well as the use of women as human shields by IS during operations in Mosul, according to the report.

In Myanmar, over half of the women interviewed by the UN’s Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said they experienced some form of sexual violence which may have been employed systematically “to humiliate and terrorise their community.”

Displaced women and girls are at heightened risk, Mohammed and Jaf said, as approximately one in five refugees or displaced women experience some form of sexual violence.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented almost 600 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence in the country in 2016 alone, largely affecting displaced women and girls. The survivors included 57 girls, several of whom were below 10 years of age. Most of the cases occurred at Sudan People’s Liberation Army checkpoints near designated protection sites and reports indicate that sexual violence is being used to punish communities for their ethnic background or perceived support for opposition groups.

Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Adama Dieng reminded attendees that there is a face and name behind every number in the report.

He told the stories of Nasima who, in fear of being killed by her relatives after returning from IS captivity, attempted suicide, and Marie who contracted HIV because she was too ashamed to report her rape and receive preventive care.

Such shame and stigma are integral components of the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, the report notes.

“Aggressors understand that this type of crime can turn victims into outcasts, thus unravelling the family and kinship ties that hold communities together,” the report states. For instance, children who are born of rape may face a life of marginalization and be susceptible to exploitation and recruitment, preventing long-term recovery.

“Stigma kills,” Dieng added.

Mohammed highlighted that holistic reintegration is “imperative.”

“It is not enough to bring back our girls—we must bring them back with dignity and respect to an environment of support, equality, and opportunity and ensure that they are provided…critical assistance that helps them reintegrate back into their homes and societies,” she stated, referencing the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls which began after 270 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram.

Dieng noted the importance of redirecting the stigma of sexual violence from the victim to the perpetrator which is only possible by involving community leaders to shift harmful perceptions of gender and shame. He also pointed to the need to recognize survivors as legitimate victims of conflict and terrorism who are entitled to relief, reparation, and justice.

“When victims have a chance to tell their stories, to observe the sentencing of offenders, and to benefit from solidarity and support including material and symbolic reparations, it can counteract isolation and self-blame. It tells the community that what happened was not the victims’ fault,” Dieng stated.

Some countries have begun to address sexual violence through legislation including Colombia which established a framework providing sexual violence survivors with access to justice. However, just 2 per cent of the 634 documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence have resulted in convictions, a trend seen around the world.

Mohammed noted the positive developments in perceptions of sexual violence, stating, “Sexual violence in conflict is no longer seen as merely a women’s issue or a lesser evil in a false hierarchy of human rights violations. Instead, it is rightly viewed as a legitimate threat to security and durable peace that requires an operational security and justice response.”

She also acknowledged the UN’s own mishaps in responding to sexual abuse allegations by peacekeeping forces but vowed to tackle the challenge and make zero tolerance “a reality.”

In 2015, cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic sparked global outrage, while a Swedish investigative team found that the UN continues to neglect survivors.

Jaf told IPS that without accountability and justice, including in the case of peacekeepers, the issue of conflict-related sexual violence will not be resolved.

She added that humanitarian responders must be trained to cope with such sensitive issues, recounting the case of a woman who did not report a sexual assault due to her discomfort in speaking to a male translator, and gender equality must continue to be promoted.

“Sexual violence in conflict does not happen in a vacuum. This is the result of systematic failure by the international community to address the root causes of conflict, gender inequality and impunity,” Jaf stated.

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