Inter Press Service » Women’s Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 24 Mar 2017 20:19:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Ending Gender-Based Violence Key to Health and Well-Beinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/ending-gender-based-violence-key-to-health-and-well-being/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-gender-based-violence-key-to-health-and-well-being http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/ending-gender-based-violence-key-to-health-and-well-being/#comments Fri, 24 Mar 2017 19:54:39 +0000 Natalia Linou http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149640 Survivors of gender-based violence need dignity for themselves and their families. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Survivors of gender-based violence need dignity for themselves and their families. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Natalia Linou
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

Physical injuries are some of the more visible, and at times most deadly, consequences of gender-based violence (GBV). But the long-term mental health consequences are often invisible and left untreated. Similarly, the reproductive and sexual health needs of survivors from rape and sexual violence – to reduce the risk of HIV and STIs, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe terminations, and long-term reproductive complications – are often unmet, stigmatised and under-reported.

But it is not only health needs which must be met. GBV is a consequence and reflection of structural inequalities that threaten sustainable development, undermine democratic governance, deepen social fragmentation and threaten peace and security. This week, UNDP and the Republic of Korea hosted an event at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women on “Gender-based violence, health and well-being: Addressing the needs of women and girls living in crisis affected context” bringing together government officials, practitioners, and academics.

A common message emerged: survivors need dignity for themselves and their families, they need immediate health services and legal services, livelihood support and economic empowerment. Multi-sectoral approaches which can meet these distinct, but inter-connected, needs are often the most effective. Research has demonstrated co-benefits of combining economic and health interventions, including for the reduction of intimate partner violence. However, even where services are available, serious barriers to accessing them exist. As Ambassador Oh Youngju of Korea stressed: “survivors of violence are often deterred from seeking help or reporting the incidents due to stigma and a lack of accessible services or ways to report safely, receive help and be treated with dignity”.

A common message emerged: survivors need dignity for themselves and their families, they need immediate health services and legal services, livelihood support and economic empowerment.

And the data can be daunting. Deputy Minister Wardak of Afghanistan shared some sobering statistics from her country: almost one in two women age 15-49 reporting physical violence in the last 12 months, with the majority who have experienced physical or sexual violence (61%) not seeking help or telling anyone about the violence.

So is there any room for optimism?

Kelly, director of the Women and War program of Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative, stressed that while conflict is a time of trauma, it is also a time of potential transformation. Changing social norms which perpetuate violence can be linked to peace and recovery processes. And successful initiatives can be scaled up. UNDP’s Dhaliwal, shared some good practices. In South Sudan, UNDP is working in partnership with the Government, the Global Fund and the International Organization for Migration to address gender-based violence as part of mental health and psychosocial support programmes. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP supported the establishment of multipurpose community centres, where survivors of GBV are provided with legal assistance and offered livelihoods training, after medical and psychosocial treatment is given by other partners. And in Afghanistan, efforts to increase the number of female healthcare workers, while not directly focused on survivors of violence, can offer culturally appropriate services and safe-spaces.

Tatsi, Executive Director in the Office for the Development of Women in Papua New Guinea shared both successes – strong alignment across civil society and government in bringing about a coherent strategy to end GBV, and challenges – the need for additional financial and technical support and called on donors to work with government for long-term, sustainable, and transformational change. And Devi of UNFPA stressed how a “continuum approach” is necessary across prevention and response efforts, as well as across the humanitarian-development nexus.

Ending GBV, and particularly violence against women and girls is an important end itself. It is also critical for the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 3 -Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and the commitment to ‘leave no one behind.’ While more evidence on preventing violence and supporting survivors is needed, the time for action is now.

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Menstrual Hygiene Project Keeps Girls in Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:06:09 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149583 Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Breaking taboos surrounding menstruation, a project to distribute sanitary napkins to girls in one district of Bangladesh has had a positive impact on school dropout rates – and should be replicated in other parts of the country, experts say.

“In Bangladesh, girls neither get enough support from their families nor their teachers in school during this difficult time, and their problems intensify and multiply as they cannot share anything out of shame,” Dr. Safura Khatun, a consultant at Mithapukur Health Complex in Bangladesh’s northern district of Rangpur, told the IPS on the sidelines of a five-day workshop.“There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.” --Dr Dilara Begum

Inter Press Service (IPS), an international news agency, in collaboration with News Network, a non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, organised the workshop titled ‘Empowering Girls and Young Women Through Healthcare and Hygiene Support’ in Mithapukur sub-district on March 12-16, 2017.

Fifty teachers and students from 50 schools, colleges and madrasahs in Mithapukur joined the workshop.

“This is simply indescribable what a traumatic situation girls in Bangladesh society undergo for lack of understanding and care by families and schools. A small support during their monthly period may make a big difference in their everyday life, including education. But sharing of this still prevails as a taboo in our society, affecting the girls’ natural flourishing of their bodies and minds,” said Dr. Safura.

She stressed the importance of incorporating healthcare and hygiene issues in school curricula so that girl students may be aware of the necessary actions at the right time and overcome the shyness in sharing those with parents.

“Girls are definitely reluctant to share their physical issues and problems with their parents …this has to be changed,” she said.

Echoing Dr. Safura, another consultant, Dr. Sabiha Nazneen Poppy of Badarganj Health Complex, also in Mithapukur, said prejudice and family-level restrictions complicate girls’ physical problems, which ultimately hamper their education. “So, we need to give  serious attention to the problems girls face during their menstruation.”

If the girls are left on their own at this stage, Dr Sabiha said, they might complicate their physical problems, causing infections and inviting diseases using unhygienic homemade sanitary pads. “Spreading awareness is essential. So is the support.”

Thus was born the organisation ‘Labonya’, which means ‘beautiful’. Launched in 1998, Labonya has been distributing free sanitary napkins among secondary school students in Mithapukur, an initiative that has proven very effective, thanks to Mithapukur parliament member HN Ashequr Rahman.

“I’ve been noticing since the early 1990s that many girls in Mithapukur skip their classes for nearly a week every month during their menstruation,” Rahman said. “This hampers their academic activities and leads to dropout in many cases.”

“In 1998, I collected data about girl students of the schools in my constituency and found an alarming picture that 90 percent female students have virtually no idea about menstrual hygiene and this is the underlying reason why so many girls drop out,” he told IPS.

The lawmaker said they were not only dropping out but also suffering from various diseases stemming from using dirty clothes and other unhealthy means to manage their menstruation.

Rahman said they started providing sanitary napkins among 25,000 students – from 7th to 12th grade – in all schools of Mithapukur. “Though we couldn’t provide the sanitary napkins every month for lack of funds, the project continued intermittently until 2001. It was suspended after the change of government following the national election in that year,” he explained.

When the current government took office in 2009, he said, he put the project back in place again, changing the scenario in Mithapukur, a sub-district which has about 500 educational institutions.

According to Rahman, the dropout rate of female students has been substantially reduced in the area with the growing awareness among students about the menstrual hygiene. “They now don’t skip classes during their menstruation. They’re also doing well in examinations.”

He said they will continue the project for another three years to make female students aware of how to manage menstrual hygiene with dignity.

Currently, ‘Labonno’ is providing around 28,500 students with a packet containing five sanitary napkins every month.

Rehana Ashequr Rahman, the head of ‘Labonya’ project, said, “If women remain sick, they cannot properly carry on their studies and they don’t have confidence to stand on their own feet. To help overcome lack of knowledge and awareness and change poor sanitary conditions prompted us to launch the project.

“Today’s girls are tomorrow’s mothers. If we can’t ensure their good health, the future generation will be at stake,” said Rehana, also the Vice-Chair of the Red Crescent Society. “This hands on and practical project should be scaled up all over Bangladesh.”

Mahmuda Nasrin, 40, a teacher of Balua High School in Mithapukur, impressed by the project, said, “It’s a very good project as it makes girls aware about their health and hygiene and explain how to share things overcoming all the prejudices.”

Mishrat Jahan Mim, 16, a tenth grader of Shalaipur High School, Nur-e-Jannat, 18, a twelfth grader of Balar Haat Adarsha Degree College and Irene Akhter, an eighth grader of Shalaipur High School said the project has changed their mindset about some taboos surrounding girl’s health and hygiene.

Speaking at one session of the workshop on March 15, Dr Dilara Begum, the librarian of East West University in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, told the girls: “There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.”

She urged the teachers to work together to break prejudices that a wife cannot sleep with her husband during her menstruation and touch anyone while praying. “We need to make people aware and share the realities of life and its cycle to build a beautiful society taking women along,” she told the audience.

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Sweetened Research, Sugared Recommendationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sweetened-research-sugared-recommendations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sweetened-research-sugared-recommendations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sweetened-research-sugared-recommendations/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 06:54:30 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149540 Jomo Kwame Sundaram is a former economics professor who served as a senior UN official during 2005-2015. Tan Zhai Gen is an University of Oxford biochemistry graduate currently involved in research. Both are Malaysians.]]> Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. Credit: IPS

Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

In 2015, Coca Cola’s chief scientist was forced to resign after revelations that the company had funded researchers to present academic papers recommending exercise to address obesity and ill health, while marginalizing the role of dietary consumption. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars to fund researchers to downplay the links between sugar and obesity, tooth decay and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Corrupt research
This was not new. In September 2016, a New York Times article highlighted a JAMA Internal Medicine research article showing that sugar industry interests had paid scientists in the 1960s to do likewise for sugar.

The Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists to publish a 1967 review of research chosen by the Foundation on sugar, fat and heart disease in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). A total of $6500 ($48 900 in 2016 dollars) was paid to the Nutrition Department head and two colleagues including one who went on to draft the first ever US dietary guidelines.

The review article downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease while implicating saturated fats instead. Until recently, subsequent US dietary guidelines reflected these studies’ findings and policy conclusions. As other countries followed, millions have shifted to more low fat, but ‘high-energy (sugar)’ food.

The practice continues. In June 2016, the Associated Press reported that confectionary producers had similarly funded studies claiming that children who eat what Americans call ‘candy’ tend to weigh less than those who do not.

A December 2016 review article in the highly respected Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers linked to the sugar industry claimed that the studies justifying recent reduced sugar intake guidelines are of poor quality. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments around the world have begun to promote and implement guidelines on sugar intake, the article claimed there is little scientific basis to expect improved health from lowering sugar intake.

Mars Inc., one of the world’s leading confectioners, has broken ranks with its rivals to denounce the industry funded paper. Top researchers in the field have denounced the article for ignoring the numerous rigorous and high-quality studies finding otherwise, but doubt has been sown to good effect that perhaps sugar is not that bad after all as there is no ‘scientific consensus’ on the issue. Similar arguments have been invoked to try to discredit the near consensus on the human caused acceleration of global warming.

Sugar causes obesity
Sugar, corn syrup and most sweeteners are minor sources of an essential category of nutrients or dietary energy called carbohydrates, measured in terms of calories or joules. Most of our carbohydrate intake comes from food staples such as rice, potatoes and wheat. Sugars are simpler carbohydrates, absorbed by the body at faster and higher rates.

When we consume too much carbohydrate-rich food, the excess carbohydrates not used by the body, e.g., for physical activity, is converted and transported by the blood vessels as glucose (known as blood sugar), and then transformed into fats. Hence, too much carbohydrate – including sugar – in our diets can lead to obesity and diabetes.

The best way to avoid obesity is by limiting calorie intake, i.e., the amount of food we eat, and increasing energy expenditure through physical activity. The publicity given to such research sponsored by the food and beverages industry to absolve sugar is part of a larger public relations effort to mislead the public around the world.

Diets are important in determining the quality of life, especially health. Good health reduces health costs and also raises productivity. Balanced food intake in moderation, dietary diversity and physical activity all contribute to health and wellness.

Developing country menace

Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. In the second half of the twentieth century, these were popularly associated with affluence and the US.

Since the turn of the century, the problem has spread to many other ‘middle income countries’, initially especially in Mexico and Central America. These changes are increasingly associated with lifestyle, behavioural and cultural changes associated with urbanization, mechanization and changes in the nature of work.

In Asia, Malaysia has the highest share of overweight and obese people. In 2014, 43.8% of men and 48.6% of women over 20 years of age were overweight, of whom many were obese. Diabetes rates among adults have also increased from 11.6% in 2006 to 15.2% in 2011 and 17.9% in 2015. Recent removal of the sugar subsidy seems to have had little impact on sugar consumption, underscoring the need for non-market interventions.

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Children Tapped to End Child Marriage in Indonesiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 14:47:42 +0000 Kanis Dursin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149407 Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

The Indonesian government is tapping children as advocates against child marriage in this Southeast Asian country where over 340,000 girls get married before they reach 18 years old every year.

Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, said her agency has been working with the National Child Forum across the country to explain the impacts of child marriage on health, education, and economic condition.“What is clear is that child marriage can be prevented if we explain its risks to children and parents." --Lenny N. Rosalin

National Child Forum, locally known as Forum Anak Nasional, is designed to be a venue for children under 18 years to air their aspirations on development programmes, from the planning to monitoring and the evaluation stage. According to its website, Forum Anak is now present in 33 of Indonesia’s provinces, 267 regencies and municipalities, 300 sub- districts, and 197 villages across the country.

“We are empowering children to be able to say no to child marriage and to tell other kids to do the same when asked to get married by their parents,” Rosalin told IPS in an interview in Jakarta.

Annually, around 340,000 Indonesian girls get married before they turn 18 years old, according to a survey published by the National Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2016. The publication, the first of its kind, was funded by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The figure shows child marriage has fallen two-fold in the past three decades. However, according to the Council of Foreign Relations, Indonesia is one of ten countries in the world with the highest child marriage rate and the second after Cambodia in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The exact number of children engaged in child marriage is difficult to gauge, however, as most of them have no birth certificate to prove their age.

In 2013, at least 50 million children under 18 years had no birth certificates, or 62 percent of the country’s children of 85 million at that time, according to the Indonesian Commission on Child Protection (KPAI). Indonesian children under 18 years now stand at around 87 million.

Forum Anak members are also taught to alert the Women Empowerment and Child Protection office in their area if they feel they cannot convince peers to say no to parents who force them to get married.

“When we receive reports of children being forced to get married, we invite local religious leaders and influential figures to convince parents of child-bride-to-be to cancel the wedding,” said Rosalin.

She claimed the strategy has worked so far but could not give an estimate of how many children have been spared from that practice since January 2016, when her ministry was tasked with preventing and eradicating child marriage in Indonesia, saying they were yet to hold a national meeting to evaluate and collect data.

“What is clear is that child marriage can be prevented if we explain its risks to children and parents,” Rosalin said.

Indonesia’s 1974 marriage law sets the legal marriage age at 16 years old for girls and 19 years for boys, contradicting the child protection law that bans parents from marrying off children below 18 years old. Worse still, the legislation also allows children under 16 years to get married as long as their parents apply for and the state court grants dispensation to them.

Budi Wahyuni, deputy chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said ideally the legal marriage age should be raised to 21 years old, or at least 18 years as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under the current situation, however, the court must be selective in granting dispensation for children under 16 years old to get married.

“For example, a dispensation is given to a bride who is already pregnant only,” Wahyuni said.

The marriage law gives no clear stipulation under what circumstances the court may grant a dispensation to children under 16 years to get married.

Several child activists here filed a judicial review with the Constitutional Court in 2015, seeking to raise the minimum marriage age from 16 years to at least 18 years old. The court, however, threw out the petition, arguing that it was the domain of the House of Representatives (DPR).

There are many reasons why parents marry off their children. First and foremost is a long-held belief that it is better to become a widow as a child than to delay marriage, according to Listyowati, Executive Director of Kalyanamitra Foundation, a non-governmental organization that promotes the rights of women.

“Many people still think that when a girl already had her first menstruation, she is already mature and ready to become a wife and mother. In such communities, girls who delay marriage are branded as old virgins even if they are still under 18 years old,” said Listyowati.

“The term old virgin has such a negative connotation that both girls and their parents feel humiliated when called so, putting pressure on them to get married early. For them, it’s better to become a child widow than to delay marriage,” said Listyowati.

Poor families, according to Listyowati, see child marriage as a way to ease economic burden as the girl moves out and stays with her husband.

“The sad thing is parents who got married while they were still children tend to marry off their young kids also,” lamented Listyowati.

Child marriage carries several risks and consequences, including high maternal and infant mortality rate. Children who get married usually drop out of school immediately and engaging in sexual activity at a very young age also runs the risk of cervical cancer.

In 2015, Indonesia’s mother mortality rate was recorded at 359 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, compared to only 228 in 2000. According to the National Population and Family Planning Board, at least 82 percent of the deaths involved young mothers aged 14 to 20 years old. Meanwhile, the country’s infant mortality rate stood at 22 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015.

The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection has also set up so-called Family Learning Centers, known by its Indonesian name Puspaga, at provincial and regency capitals and municipalities where government-appointed psychologists and psychiatrists provide free counseling, including the issue of child marriage.

On top of that, the government encourages schools, provinces, regencies, and municipalities to become more child-friendly, with indicators including 12-year mandatory schooling, zero child labor, and zero child marriage.

“When all children attend 12 years of mandatory education, then there will be no more child marriage or child labor,” said Rosalin of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection.

“Around 1,400 schools around the country have pledged to become child-friendly schools,” she added.

Listyowati of Kalyanamitra Foundation praised the Indonesian government’s move to engage children in its campaign against child marriage in the country. However, the move may prove inadequate if the marriage law still allows children to get married.

“The move should be followed up with a change in legislation. The marriage law must be amended to raise legal marriage age to at least 18 years old,” Listyowati stressed.

“The government must start introducing sex education. I know it’s still a taboo to talk about sex education, especially to children. In fact, some quarters see it as a way to teaching children how to engage in sexual activities but children have to know the risks of engaging in sexual activities at a very young age,” she said.

Rosalin said her ministry has submitted the draft of a government regulation on marriage in lieu of law to the office of the Presidential Advisory Council to replace the current marriage law.

“The draft is seeking two things. First, we want to increase the legal marriage age to 21 years old, or at least 18 years old, and secondly, scrap any sort of dispensation that may give room to child marriage,” Rosalin said.

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Women’s Progress Uneven, Facing Backlash – UN Rights Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-progress-uneven-facing-backlash-un-rights-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-progress-uneven-facing-backlash-un-rights-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-progress-uneven-facing-backlash-un-rights-chief/#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:20:07 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149327 Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 8 2017 (IPS)

“The women’s movement has brought about tremendous change but we must also recognise that progress has been slow and extremely uneven and that it also brought its own challenges,” warned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Marking International Women’s Day on March 8, Zeid said that in too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all. “We need to be alert – the advances of the last few decades are fragile and should nowhere be taken for granted.“

The United Nations Human Rights Office on March 7 launched a joint report with the African Union and UN Women detailing the progress and challenges to women’s struggle for human rights in Africa, while the UN rights chief warned that the women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.

Zeid added that it is “extremely troubling” to see recent roll-back of fundamental legislation in many parts of the world.

“Such roll-backs are “underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

While such pushbacks are carried out in the name of tradition, Zeid noted that they are often a response to segments of society calling for change. Among examples he gave, he pointed to recent legislation in Bangladesh, Burundi and the Russian Federation, which weakens women’s rights to fight against child marriage, marital rape and domestic violence, respectively.

He noted also the “fierce resistance” in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to political and civil society efforts to open up access to sexual and reproductive rights.

“With the world’s young population concentrated in developing nations, retrogressive measures denying women and girls access to sexual and reproductive health services will have a devastating effect,” Zeid said, noting more maternal deaths, more unintended pregnancies, fewer girls finishing school and the economic impact of failing to fully include women in the workforce.

“In short, a generation without choices and a collective failure to deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he added, referring to the internationally agreed action plan for eradicating poverty while assisting all people and maintain the health of the planet. “The women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.” – UN Human Rights Chief

Meanwhile, Zeid praised women’s movements in countries such as Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia, where women and men took to the streets to demand change, but warned that “it is time to come together to protect the important gains of the past and maintain a positive momentum.”

Women as Active Agents of Change

In Africa, women continue to be denied full enjoyment of their rights in every country, according to a new report released on Mach 7 entitled Women’s Rights in Africa. Statistics show that some African countries have no legal protection for women against domestic violence, and they are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, and to marry while still children.

According to the report, however, in Africa – as around the globe – when women exercise their rights to access to education, skills, and jobs, there is a surge in prosperity, positive health outcomes, and greater freedom and well-being, not only of women but of the whole society.

“Human rights are not a utopian fairy-tale -they are a recipe for sound institutions, more sustainable development and greater peace,” Zeid wrote in the foreword to the report.

“When all women are empowered to make their own choices and share resources, opportunities and decisions as equal partners, every society in Africa will be transformed.”

Among its recommendations, the report calls on African governments to encourage women’s full and productive employment, to recognize the importance of unpaid care and domestic work, and to ensure women can access and control their own economic and financial resources.

The report stresses that women should not be seen only as victims but, for example, as active agents in formal and informal peace building processes. (Read the Full Report).

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Women and Girls, One Third of World’s Drug Usershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-girls-one-third-of-worlds-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-girls-one-third-of-worlds-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-girls-one-third-of-worlds-drug-users/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 19:17:36 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149308 Despite eradication and education efforts, drug use, especially heroin, remains rampant in parts of Myanmar. Photo: IRIN. Source: United Nations

Despite eradication and education efforts, drug use, especially heroin, remains rampant in parts of Myanmar. Photo: IRIN. Source: United Nations

By IPS World Desk
ROME/VIENNA, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users yet are only one-fifth of those receiving treatment, a UN-Backed independent expert body warned.

Citing a significant rise over the past year in the number of women dying from drug overdoses globally, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned that women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users.

“Yet [they] are only one-fifth of those receiving treatment, as significant systemic, structural, social, cultural and personal barriers affect women’s ability to access substance abuse treatment.”

Further, they are also more likely to be prescribed narcotics and anti-anxiety medication than men, and are thus more likely to abuse these medications, according to the latest INCB report. For example, Germany and Serbia have reported that fatal overdoses from prescription drugs are more frequent among women.

The UN-backed independent expert body, which monitors governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, has called for the implementation of gender-sensitive drug policies and programmes.

Additionally, countries such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have seen larger increases in overdoses, of all substances, among women than among men, it informs.

These are among the key findings in the 2016 Annual Report that the INCB launched on March 2, stressing that Governments should prioritise providing health care for drug-dependent women, in addition to more funding and coordination to prevent and treat drug abuse among women.

“We want to change perceptions and remind people, particularly policymakers, of the importance of protecting the rights of women who use drugs or who have committed drug-related offences and the rights of their families,” said the organisation’s President, Werner Sipp.

The report also highlights the importance of targeting prevention programmes to specific populations, such as prisoners, pregnant women, people living with HIV/AIDS, and sex workers. It also notes that women prisoners and sex workers are at “particular risk” of drug use.

“Countries are also encouraged to seek alternatives to imprisonment for drug-related offences, such as treatment, rehabilitation and social integration.”

The INCB repeated its longstanding call for countries to abolish the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Among its other observations, it noted with “great concern” recent reports in some countries of the targeting of individuals suspected of involvement in drug-related activity, including drug use, who have been subjected to violent acts of reprisal and murder at the hands of law enforcement personnel and members of the civilian population.

In some instances, those acts have been committed with the express or tacit approval, or even encouragement, of political forces and, in many cases, have gone unpunished, said INCB.

It also emphasised that it condemns such practices, including the extrajudicial targeting of persons suspected of drug use, “in the strongest possible terms,” and denounced them as a “serious violation of human rights […] and an affront to the most basic standards of human dignity.”

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Why a Feminist Foreign Policy Is Needed More than Everhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 06:06:23 +0000 Margot Wallstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149289 Margot Wallström, is Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden]]> Margot Wallström

Margot Wallström

By Margot Wallström
STOCKHOLM, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Lately, the world has tended to present itself in increasingly darker shades. In many places, democracy is questioned, women’s rights are threatened, and the multilateral system that has taken decades to build is undermined.

No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights.

That is why I – when I assumed office as Foreign Minister over two years ago – announced that Sweden would pursue a feminist foreign policy. Today, this policy is more needed than ever.

The world is torn by conflicts that are perhaps more complex and more difficult to solve than ever before. Almost half of all conflicts reoccur within five years. Over 1.5 billion people live in fragile states and conflict zones.

In order to respond to these global challenges, we need to connect the dots and see what drives peace. We need to change our policies from reactive to proactive, focusing on preventing rather than responding. And prevention can never be successful without the full picture of how certain situations affect men, women, boys and girls differently. Applying gender analysis, strengthening the collection of gender disaggregated data, improving accountability and bringing women into peace negotiations and peacebuilding will be key in moving forward.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue
Studies show that conflict analyses that include gender aspects and women’s experiences are more efficient. Rise in sexual and gender based violence can for example be an early indicator of conflict. We also need to take into account the studies that show a correlation between gender equal societies and peace.

Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy and social justice. But overwhelming evidence shows that it is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security. Increasing gender equality has positive effects on food security, extremism, health, education and numerous other key global concerns.

With Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, we bring all our foreign policy tools into play for gender equality and apply a systematic gender perspective in everything we do. It is an analytical tool for making informed decisions.

The feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change which aims to increase the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls, based on the reality where they live.

Representation is at the core of the policy, since it is such a powerful vehicle for both the enjoyment of rights and access to resources. Whether it regards foreign or domestic policy, whether in Sweden or any other place in the world, we see that women are still under-represented in influential positions in all areas of society. Non-representative decision-making is more likely to yield discriminatory and suboptimal outcomes. Put women at the table from the start and you will notice that more issues and perspectives are brought to light.

Despite facing discouraging times for world politics, it is important to remember that change is possible. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy makes a tangible difference. Every day, embassies, agencies and departments implement context- and knowledge-based policy around the world. And more countries are realising that gender equality simply makes sense.

To mention some examples of how we work, Sweden has provided extensive support for the involvement of women in the Colombian peace process, ensuring that significant perspectives were lifted in the peace agreement. We have also established a Swedish network of women peace mediators, co-established a Nordic equivalent and reached out to other countries and regions to encourage them to form their own networks.

Together with the ICC and partner countries, we counter impunity for sexual and gender based violence in conflicts. We also make sure that humanitarian actors only receive funding if their work is based on gender disaggregated data. Governmental guidelines have been given to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, contributing to making gender equality the main objective in an increasing amount of Sida’s specific sector issues.

These are just some examples of how our feminist foreign policy translates into practice, making a difference for women and girls around the world.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

]]> http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/why-a-feminist-foreign-policy-is-needed-more-than-ever/feed/ 1 New Maternity Legislation in Cuba Ignores Fathershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:52:51 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149214 A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

A new set of regulations to strengthen the maternity rights of working women and encourage people to have children in Cuba were seen as a positive step but not enough, because they do not include measures to encourage more active participation in child-rearing by men.

“These legislative changes promote responsible maternity and paternity,” sociologist Magela Romero, who is about to become a mother, told IPS. “There are still aspects to review to achieve a legal text which reflects from beginning to end its spirit of promoting a culture of equality between parents.”

Against a backdrop of a record low fertility rate and accelerated aging of the population, the authorities published on Feb. 10 two new decree-laws and four statutes that modify the 2003 Law for Working Mothers, which was reformed previously in 2011.

The theme this year of International Women’s Day, celebrated Mar. 8, is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”, because improving the participation of women in the labour market is seen as essential to achieving equality.

Romero, who is currently studying the father figure in Cuba’s labour legislation, proposed revising even “the most subtle aspects, such as the title of the law itself, which doesn’t mention the working father, and therefore could conceal them as possible beneficiaries.”

In 2003, Cuba placed itself in the forefront in Latin America, passing a law that ensured working fathers one year of parental leave in case they became widowers or were abandoned by the mother.

But in what is seen as a sign of the prevailing sexism in Cuban society, few men have availed themselves of this benefit. The latest figures show that only 125 fathers requested parental leave between 2006 and 2013, in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people.

In response to the low level of involvement by fathers and to address the fact that many children are mainly cared for by their grandmothers, the new regulations also allow working maternal or paternal grandparents to request leave to take care of newborns.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, just 49 per cent of children in Cuba lived with both parents, 38 per cent only lived with their mother (the majority) or their father, while 13 per cent were at the time being cared for by other relatives.

Cuba is the country with the lowest number of children per woman in Latin America – 1.72 in 2015, according to official figures – in a country which since 1978 has had a fertility rate below the replacement level of one daughter per woman, a situation that the region as a whole will not reach until 2050.

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Romero said the new laws acknowledge new developments that have arisen in light of the current economic reforms, such as women having more than one job, and those that make up the growing private sector, who constitute 32 per cent of the 507,342 registered self-employed workers.

For this reason, women who work in the private sector and have two or more children under 17 will pay only 50 percent of the monthly taxes they would otherwise owe. And people with a permit to offer services of childcare, or caring for sick, disabled or elderly people, will also pay half of the monthly tax.

Moreover, women who go back to their public sector jobs before the end of the year of maternity leave continue to draw the monthly stipend of 60 per cent of their salary. And those with two jobs receive maternity payments for each job.

In addition, families with more than two children pay reduced fees, or are even exempt from paying, for public daycare and school meals.

Hundreds of comments on local news websites have urged the authorities to take measures in that direction and have assessed them as positive, for seeking to ease the heavy economic burden that a baby implies in a country in the grip of a virtually chronic economic crisis since 1991, and which is now suffering a new economic downturn.

Having a baby in Cuba “can be economically a tremendously stressful challenge,” said Mayra García, who is expecting at any moment the birth of her first child. It is even hard for her and her husband, who waited to get pregnant until they had their own house, were economically independent and had stable jobs in their professions.

“And few couples our age are able to achieve such economic independence,” the 30-year-old editor, who hopes to have at least two children, told IPS.

She said it was a good thing that new mothers who return to their jobs before the year is up continue to draw their maternity leave stipend. And she called for the expansion and improvement of public childcare services, to help families reconcile family life and work.

“Currently, public childcare centres are unable to keep up with demand,” she said.

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In public daycare centres, monthly fees per child average 40 cuban pesos (1.6 dollars) and vary depending on the family’s income. With differences per region, a private daycare costs about 100 cuban pesos (four dollars) and some exclusive childcare centres in the capital even cost much more and in dollars.

Marybexy Calcerrada and Aida Torralbas, psychologists and gender experts who live in the city of Holguín, 689 km east of Havana, propose creating support mechanisms in the workplace for more specific cases.

“A quota for subsidised purchases of a variety of products to meet the basic needs of infants and adolescents could be considered,” Calcerrada told IPS, urging “continued encouragement of the involvement of men in their role as fathers.”

She believes that “parents should be given quotas of hours for justified absence from work to take care of children in the face of health problems and school needs.”

Studies show that working women in Cuba earn less than men, despite earning equal wages, because they are absent more often from their jobs, to take care of their children and sick and elderly people in their care.

For Torralbas, the new reforms in the legislation “could have been a good opportunity to give fathers a short period of leave after their baby’s birth. In other countries, the father has two weeks of parental leave when his child is born,” she said as an example.

“In Cuba, women and men think it over carefully before having children,” said Frank Alejandro Velázquez. “They are not the same mothers and fathers as 60 years ago. They have been taught to think about minimally adequate, fair social conditions, infused with gender equality, before having a child.”

This young expert of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue- Cuba, in the city of Cárdenas, 150 km east of Havana, also brought up other issues, such as the “social uncertainty” that exists in this country where the government began to reform its socialist system in 2008.

“These measures are just a step forward with respect to previous legislation,” he told IPS.

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Breaking Barriers for Women Is a Short Cut to Economic Growth and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:32:34 +0000 Lilianne Ploumen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149253 Lilianne Ploumen is Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands]]> Lilianne Ploumen

Lilianne Ploumen

By Lilianne Ploumen
The Hague, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

In South Asian societies, as elsewhere, it is all too common for women to be held back, time and again Women’s potential remains largely untapped – which is not only morally wrong, but also economically unwise. According to recent projections, harnessing women’s full potential throughout South Asia would increase GNP by more than half by 2025. In absolute terms, women could earn countries in South Asia an additional 400 billion dollars in the next ten years! clearly, women hold the key to economic success for South Asia: their empowerment can fuel further development. The Netherlands has invested substantially in the economic empowerment of women in this region. Our successes, achieved in collaboration with many stakeholders, show what can be achieved if we keep up these efforts.

It is important to know, firsts what barriers are holding women back. There are several, but all come down to women’s subordinate role in society. Women’s potential cannot be fully exploited until we break down these barriers, in various sphere of life. They need access to equitable and safe employment, education and training. As well as access to and control over economic resources and opportunities. Their voices must be heard and their influence on policy felt. They must have freedom from violence, freedom of movement, access to and control over reproductive health and family planning, and social protection and child care. All these may seem like formidable tasks, but the good news is that many of the investments needed, by public and private actors, yield positive returns on investment.

I can illustrate this using our experience in the garment industry. The growth of the garment industry in South Asia has greatly increased access to employment for women. These jobs offer enormous new opportunities for the economic empowerment of women and girls, who often come from poor rural communities where they are confined to the domestic sphere. The benefits of work extend beyond the economic. These young women gain a greater say in their households, more autonomy in decision-making and more self-esteem.

All’s well that ends well? No. We must not turn away from the violations of basic women’s rights that often occur in the garment industry. Women generally earn less than men, and they often face harassment and gender-based violence. lmproving their working conditions is the right thing to do. And, as independent research confirms, it makes economic sense too.

Through various programmes, the Netherlands helps strengthen the position of female workers in the garment industry. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds a strategic partnership made up of the Fair Wear Foundation. CNV International and Mondiaal FNV to reduce gender-based violence and promote gender equality in the garment industry. It runs projects in India, Bangladesh and other producing countries. In Bangladesh for example, the partnership is working to increase women’s participation in dialogue between workers and factory management. Works councils at the factories and trade unions receive support, enabling them to effectively address gender-based violence.

The Netherlands also provides core funding to the Better Work programme, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization(ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better Work aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in global garment supply chains, and focuses especially on strengthening the position of women in these supply chains. The impact of the interventions is backed up by sound research. An independent evaluation by Tufts University, for example, found that training supervisors through the Better Work programme increased productivity by up to 22%, and traced this in particular to the training of female supervisors. These are important findings, as they demonstrate that promoting women to management positions not only has positive effect on their empowerment but also makes good business sense.

The same approach is followed in a project in Bangladesh that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through inclusive business practices for female workers in the ready-made garment sector. Funded by our embassy in Dhaka and implemented by SNV, the project supports female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable and good-quality. SRHR services and products. The project is running at 19 factories and uses 10 selected SRHR service providers and private sector partners to pilot and test activities that deliver win-win solutions for businesses and workers.

Part and parcel of our approach to increase women’s economic empowerment is to ensure that women have full control over family planning. In response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy – the decision by the new US administration to suspend funding for organisations that provide access to safe abortion or information about abortion – I have established She Decides, an initiative that aims to leverage financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide, mitigating the impact of the US funding cuts.

In conclusion, women hold an important key to economic success in South Asia. By empowering women, we improve both their welfare and their economic contribution. We have made progress in improving women’s conditions in the garment industry and beyond. If South Asia is to reap the full potential of the female half of its population, it is vital to sustain the gains made so far and scale them up fast. For its part, the Netherlands will continue— with renewed vigour – to work with governments, brands, factories and civil societies so as to give women the opportunities they deserve.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Seven Scary Facts About Widening Gender Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/seven-scaring-facts-about-widening-gender-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seven-scaring-facts-about-widening-gender-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/seven-scaring-facts-about-widening-gender-gap/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 06:28:22 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149225 A resident of Rabaable village in Somalia fetches water with the help of her daughters. The villages well was recently rehabilitated by UNICEF. Credit: UNICEF Somalia/Sebastian Rich

A resident of Rabaable village in Somalia fetches water with the help of her daughters. The villages well was recently rehabilitated by UNICEF. Credit: UNICEF Somalia/Sebastian Rich

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Women across the globe are facing new threats, which risk dismantling decades of hard-won rights and derailing the effort to end extreme poverty, an international confederation of civil society organisations has revealed ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.

The renewal of the global gag rule restricting US funding for family planning services is the latest of a number of new threats that will have a huge effect on the world’s poorest women, OXFAM international on March 2 warned in its new report ‘An economy that works for women‘.

It comes as progress towards women’s equality risks going into reverse, something that will make it impossible for world leaders to end extreme poverty by 2030, it adds.

“At current rates, the time it will take to close the 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women stands at 170 years – 52 years longer than it would have done just a year ago. And, over the past five years, donor funding directly to women’s rights organisations has more than halved. All of this risks putting women’s rights in reverse.“
“Women still carry out between two to 10 times more unpaid care work than men,” OECD

On this, the Head of Oxfam’s Even It Up campaign, Deepak Xavier, said that across the world, many of the basic human rights women have secured over the last few decades are at risk.

“Everyone has a part to play in ensuring this rollback on women’s rights does not happen. Recognizing that women and girls are equal to men and boys is crucial in the fight against poverty and inequality.”

The new Oxfam’s report launched on March 2, ‘An economy that works for women‘, outlines the importance of paid work as a vital route out of poverty for women.

Yet gender inequality in the economy is now back to where it stood in 2008 and millions of women around the world continue to face low wages, a lack of decent, secure jobs and a heavy and unequal responsibility for unpaid care work, such as housework and childcare, OXFAM reports.

“Even in countries where the distribution is the most equal, it is estimated that women still carry out at least twice as much unpaid care work than men with an estimated global value of 10 trillion dollars per year – more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.”

Rural women: a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Credit: FAO

Rural women: a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Credit: FAO

“Studies also show that inequality in economic terms costs women in developing countries 9 trillion dollars a year; a sum that would not only benefit women but would unlock new spending power for their families and produce a boost to the economy as a whole.”

This International Women’s Day, OXFAM calls for people around the world to stand up for women’s equal right to safe, decent, fairly paid work and a world free from the injustice of poverty.

Seven Key Facts

The international aid confederation reports the following facts about the widening gender inequality:

1. Up to 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women according to the International Labour Organization’s ‘Women at Work: Trends 2016’.

2. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 estimates it will now take 170 years to close the 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women and gender inequality in the economy is now back to where it stood in 2008.

3. The global value of women’s unpaid care work each year is estimated at 10 trillion dollars according to McKinsey Global Institute report 2015.

4. The Global GDP in 2015 is estimated by the CIA World Factbook as 75.73 trillion dollars at the official exchange rate.

5. Up to 9 trillion dollars – annual cost of economic inequality to women in developing countries according to Action Aid’s Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work report.

6. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) estimates that women still carry out between two to 10 times more unpaid care work than men: OECD stat Employment: ‘Time spent in paid and unpaid work, by sex.

7. On average in Asia women earn between 70 to 90 per cent of what men earn and carry out around 2.5 times the amount of unpaid care work that men do.

Women still carry out at least twice as much unpaid care work than men, OXFAM reports, adding that the current broken economic model, which is undermining gender equality and causing extreme economic inequality, urges the need for an economy that works for women.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Women’s Rights Activists: “Nevertheless, We Persist”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-rights-activists-nevertheless-we-persist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-rights-activists-nevertheless-we-persist http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/womens-rights-activists-nevertheless-we-persist/#comments Thu, 02 Mar 2017 16:40:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149202 The theme of the 2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women will be economic empowerment. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The theme of the 2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women will be economic empowerment. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2017 (IPS)

Human rights groups have expressed concern for the future of global negotiations on women’s rights in a climate of restrictive policies ahead of an upcoming annual UN meeting on the status of women.

While discussing the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organisations highlighted the importance of intersectionality in the discussion of women’s rights and implementation of relevant social and economic policies, referring to the importance of considering the many different ways that women can be marginalised.

“You need to look at issues of education, issues of mobility, issues of violence in the workplace, issues of sexual and reproductive rights of women…as a precursor to employment,” said President of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) Françoise Girard.

Negotiations have begun to create an outcome document for the CSW, whose main theme for 2017 is women’s economic empowerment.

“We feel very strongly that you cannot talk about women in a world of work globally without looking at the other factors that keep women from decent work,” Girard told IPS.

However, the initial draft failed to address these issues adequately with no mention of girls’ access to education or young women’s access to reproductive health care, she said.

“If women don’t have access to education or ethnic minorities are discriminated in the school system…or [lack] the ability to control their fertility and reproductive health…that will have a huge impact on their ability to be in paid work,” Girard told IPS.

Co-Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) Eleanor Blomstrom also noted the “disappointing” lack of language around climate change.

“If we don’t address [climate change], then we don’t have a planet on which to live where women can exercise their full rights,” she said during a press conference.

Girard and Blomstrom also expressed alarm at the implementation of policies that further restrict women’s rights and thus economic empowerment.

The global gag rule, reinstated by the Trump administration, forbids non-governmental organisations receiving U.S. global health funding from working on issues around abortion regardless of other sources of funding. It also blocks recipients from participating in any national discussions on abortion.

Under the Bush administration, the policy only applied to family planning funds. This is the first time the condition has been applied to all global health assistance which makes up USD 9.5 billion, including funding for HIV and maternal health.

Girard cited the example of Kenyan organisation Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) which receives approximately USD 200,000 to provide a range of reproductive health services including the treatment of postpartum haemorrhage. However, they are now left in a precarious position of whether or not to limit their services.

“Now they are having to choose—they cannot provide comprehensive health care anymore if they accept U.S. government funding, but they don’t want to stop training providers for postpartum haemorrhage,” said Girard.

Girard and Blomstrom noted that including such intersections of women’s issues in the CSW outcome document will help pave the way for governments to implement longer-term, detailed plans that allow for positive development opportunities and outcomes for women.

And there has been some progress, they added, with governments contributing to a new draft that views women’s participation in the world of work in a more holistic manner.

The new draft has thus far pulled language from the Paris Climate Change Agreement to address the intersections between women’s economic empowerment and environmental and climate change concerns, and highlighted the “crucial” need for men and boys to share household work and work towards a fair division of labor.

“I am pleasantly surprised at this early stage that there is real recognition (of these issues),” Girard said.

She also noted the important mobilisation around the world for and after the Women’s March on Washington which saw millions of protestors gather for women’s rights.

“I see the energy is very high, people are mobilised, the actions are continuing and we’re not going away, we’re not going back,” Girard told IPS.

The organisers of the Women’s March have planned a women’s strike on March 8, which also falls on International Women’s Day.

“In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women’s March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognising the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity,” the organisers state.

And in that same spirit and despite the potential disagreements that are expected to occur as CSW negotiations proceed, “nevertheless, we persist,” said Girard and Blomstrom.

The term is a play on words after U.S. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, said ““She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” in reference to U.S. Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, after Warren was told to stop reading out loud a letter by Coretta Scott King – the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. – earlier this month.csw

Governments and civil society from around the world will be convening for CSW at the UN Headquarters in NY from 13 to 24 March to discuss and implement plans to promote women’s rights.

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“Women in the UN Working Together to Improve the Lives of Women Worldwide”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-in-the-un-working-together-to-improve-the-lives-of-women-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-the-un-working-together-to-improve-the-lives-of-women-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-in-the-un-working-together-to-improve-the-lives-of-women-worldwide/#comments Thu, 02 Mar 2017 09:35:13 +0000 Chitra Deshpande http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149182 Chitra Deshpande, Adviser to the Vice-President of IFAD, is Founder of the Women’s Informal Network (WIN), an informal professional network of women working in international development to promote women’s leadership and managerial capacities.]]> Credit: FAO_Cote d'Ivoire

Credit: FAO_Cote d'Ivoire

By Chitra Deshpande
ROME, Mar 2 2017 (IPS)

This International Women’s Day we celebrate women in the changing world of work, recognizing the need to fully realize women’s working potential in order to achieve Agenda 2030. We know that when women earn money, they spend it on feeding their families and educating their children. It is estimated that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

Women worldwide carry the double burden of domestic labor and income-generating work outside the household. Despite working typically 12-13 hours per week more than men in developing countries in Africa and Asia, working women usually go unrecognized. Women in rural areas spend more of their time on domestic chores such as collecting water and firewood, preparing food, transporting goods and caring for children, the elderly and sick. They also work on family farms – spending on average three hours more per day than men on unpaid agricultural work. Equitable access to decent employment opportunities for women is critical to the well-being of their families and communities. Yet most rural women are either unpaid family workers, self-employed or hold precarious jobs for low pay.

In the United Nations, many women are committed to removing the barriers that women face in developing countries. The Joint-Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE) is one example of how women from different UN agencies – FAO, IFAD, UN Women and WFP – are securing rural women’s livelihoods and rights in seven countries. Through the efforts of many women and men, but particularly – Clare Bishop-Sambrook and Beatrice Gerli of IFAD, Susan Kaaria and Libor Stloukal in FAO, Venge Nyirongo of UN Women, Veronique Sainte-Luce of WFP, and Azzurra Chiarini the Global Coordinator – RWEE has supported over 22,500 women and their households by enabling 2,150 women to access financial services; 5,200 to receive business development support; and training almost 4,000 women in improved agricultural technologies. As a smallholder farmer in Nepal, Chandra Kala Thapa faces many barriers to improving her agricultural productivity and income. RWEE provided her with seeds, fertilizers and equipment, and helped her access credit. Engaging the men in the community has resulted in Chandra’s husband helping her with the household work and farming. The increased income from diversifying her crops to fruits and vegetables has allowed her to educate her sons and pay for medical care. As President of her Women’s Farmers’ Group, Chandra also brings women together to find solutions to farming and family problems.

Credit: IFAD_Nepal

Credit: IFAD_Nepal


Rural women often work under conditions that are hazardous to their health. In Cote d’Ivoire, as in much of West Africa, women smoke fish in poorly ventilated rooms. Traditional smoking releases carcinogenic contaminants that lead to respiratory, eye and other health problems for women and their children. With the expertise of Yvette Diei-Ouadi, FAO Fishery Industry Officer and the support of Oumoul Khairy Ndiaye, from FAO’s office in Burkina Faso, FAO collaborated with the National Training Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Technicians in Senegal to develop the Thiaroye or FTT fish smoking technology – a system consisting of a dual-function oven and mechanical drier. This was designed to help small-scale fish processors, who are mainly women, prepare and market safe, high-quality food. According to Dion Somplehi, President of a cooperative of women fish processors and fish mongers, “We have seen the advantage of saving time in fish smoking and this is really important because in our communities, women are at the same time engaged in household chores – taking care of children, working in the kitchen – while carrying out fish processing activities.” The FTT oven also improved the quality of Ivorian smoked fish to meet the high food safety requirements of the European Union.

When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community. Therefore, to fully unlock a woman’s potential, it is critical to include her family. IFAD uses household methodologies to promote equitable intra-household relations and shared decision-making. In IFAD-funded projects in Uganda, originally led by the Country Programme Manager Marian Bradley with the support of IFAD’s gender team, the household mentoring approach was used to assist Biribawa, a married woman with nine children, who struggled to support her family. A trained mentor helped Biribawa and her family formulate a vision and outline the steps to achieve it. Today her children are in school and, through improved farming and mat weaving, they have realized the family vision to build a permanent house.

In order for women working in the UN to help women in developing countries, they also need a supportive work environment to take care of their own families. In her former positions at FAO and IFAD, Theresa Panuccio was instrumental in establishing on-site child-care centres which improved women’s work-life balance. As we know from our projects, on-site child care can significantly improve women’s productivity by reducing absenteeism and the travel time to collect children.

Women worldwide are daughters, mothers, and wives as well as workers – farmers, entrepreneurs, laborers and experts. To unleash our full potential, we need to join together and support one another to care for our families and perform our jobs to the benefit of our communities, societies and countries.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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These Women Cannot Celebrate Their Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:18:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149132 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds that IPS is launching on the occasion of this year's International Women’s Day on March 8.]]> Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

This is a story that one would wish to never have to write—the story of hundreds of millions of life-givers whose production and productivity have systematically been ‘quantified’ in much detailed statistics, but whose abnegation, human suffering and denial of rights are subject to just words.

It is the story of those women who witness their children die while fleeing wars, or are kidnapped to sell their organs, or recruited as child soldiers.

It is the story of those women who fall prey to human traffickers and are sold as sexual slaves. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims.)

And it is the story of those women and girls who become victims of abhorrent violence by their male relatives; whose rights as workers are routinely abused by their employers, and are even killed by their partners. (In some countries, up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes, according to UN Women).

It is the story of millions of young girls who are forced into inhumane early marriage and pregnancy; of those who are subjected to female genital mutilation. (The UN recognises this practice as a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence–Female genital mutilation denies women and girls their dignity and causes needless pain and suffering, with consequences that endure for a lifetime and can even be fatal, reminds the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.)

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

Africa and the Arab region are among those areas where FGM is commonly practised. (The African Union concludes that it is an excruciatingly painful practice that violates basic human rights).

Its impact on young girls and women is multi-faceted and touches various aspects of their lives, including their physical, psychological and social well-being, with scars lingering on for the rest of their lives.

It is the story of millions of girls who have no access to education, and when they have it, most of them flee school because of the lack of sanitary services. (A study by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) covering the years spanning 2009 to 2014 reports thousands of attacks against schools in at least 70 different countries, many of which were targeted for advocating girls’ education.)

It is the story of nearly two-thirds of world’s inhabitants who suffer from lack of proper access to reproductive and maternity health care services. (The UN Population Fund stresses that universal access to reproductive health affects and is affected by many aspects of life. It involves individuals’ most intimate relationships, including negotiation and decision-making within these relationships, and interactions with health providers regarding contraceptive methods and options.)

Credit: UNODC

Credit: UNODC

It is also the story of very young girls who are abducted by terror groups to brutally satiate their sexual appetites and blackmailing, such as has been the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

And it is the story of those indigenous women who care for whatever remains of their lands, which guard 80 per cent of world’s biodiversity, but whose rights and ancestral knowledge are ignored and even disdained.

It is the story of those women farmers who produce up to 80 per cent of food but have no right to own their land, to agricultural inputs, resources or small credits.

And of those millions of domestic workers whose rights were lately acknowledged – though not sufficiently applied.

And it is the story of a flagrant growing inequality. (OXFAM estimates that, at current trend, it will take women 170 years to be paid the same as men are…Let alone the fact that half of world’s health is in the pockets of just eight individuals—all of them men).

This year’s International Women’s Day will be marked on March 8 under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50by 2030”.

The United Nations says that it will be “a time to reflect on progress made, to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the long awaited goals of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”

The world body has set some key targets of that 2030 Agenda:

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

• End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

• Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

• Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The United Nations also notes that the world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. “We have globalisation, technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring, and on the other hand, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.”

All these words and good wishes sound great.

Yet International Women’s Day will represent, above all, another slap in the face of humankind who is still unable (unwilling?) to duly, effectively honour those who gave them life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IPS: How many ICS have you installed so far?  

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

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

IPS: When did the project begin? 

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

IPS: Who are the beneficiaries?

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

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

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

IPS: What is the feedback from the beneficiaries? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Eve Crowley
SANTIAGO, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family Planning in the Philippines: Stalled Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 20:25:47 +0000 Barry Mirkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148339 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/family-planning-in-the-philippines-stalled-again/feed/ 0