Inter Press Service » Women’s Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 26 May 2017 17:30:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Time To Focus On ‘Hidden Hunger’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger/#comments Fri, 26 May 2017 16:13:05 +0000 Bev Postma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150605 Bev Postma is the CEO of HarvestPlus. She has 25 years of experience as a policy expert in international food systems, nutrition and food security. ]]> Children, Kafue, Zambia. Credit: Brian Moonga/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Menstrual Health and Vitality: Breaking the Silence, Stemming the Floodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 21:17:36 +0000 Archana Patkar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150541 Archana Patkar is Programme Manager on Equality & Non-Discrimination at the UN Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)]]> Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

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

By Archana Patkarv
GENEVA, May 23 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The ‘Public’ in Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-public-in-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 22:08:43 +0000 Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150532 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia]]> hospital2

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

 

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

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

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The oped first appeared in The Hindu.

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Sexual Violence as a “Threat to Security and Durable Peace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/sexual-violence-as-a-threat-to-security-and-durable-peace/#comments Wed, 17 May 2017 13:16:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150441 Mina Jaf, Founder and Executive Director of Women's Refugee Route. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stigma kills,” Dieng added.

Mohammed highlighted that holistic reintegration is “imperative.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kenya’s Drought: Response Must Be Sustainable, Not Piecemealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/kenyas-drought-response-must-be-sustainable-not-piecemeal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-drought-response-must-be-sustainable-not-piecemeal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/kenyas-drought-response-must-be-sustainable-not-piecemeal/#comments Mon, 15 May 2017 10:11:55 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150415 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya.]]> Dabo Boru, 21, is a mother of three who trekked with her family to Badanrero from her home village of Ambato, 38 km away. They were forced to move here in order to save their cattle from dying of thirst and hunger due to drought. Credit: @unicefkenya

Dabo Boru, 21, is a mother of three who trekked with her family to Badanrero from her home village of Ambato, 38 km away. They were forced to move here in order to save their cattle from dying of thirst and hunger due to drought. Credit: @unicefkenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 15 2017 (IPS)

 

A malnutrition emergency

Food security in Kenya has deteriorated significantly since the end of 2016. UNICEF reports a significant increase in severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 110,000 children under-five need treatment, up from 75,300 in August 2016.

Waterholes and rivers have dried up, leading to widespread crop failure and livestock depletion. At the height of the drought, surface water in most counties had either dried up or its level dramatically reduced.

Consequently, within a year, the price of maize flour has risen by 31 per cent, milk by 12 and sugar by 21 per cent. These food price increases have driven inflation up from 9.04 per cent in February to 11.48 per cent in April. Many families are making do with just one meal in a day.

Conditions are dire in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. Livestock and milk production has declined, adversely affecting food consumption levels for communities, particularly women and children.

Malnutrition is widespread among children. In the hardest-hit counties of Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera, a third of children under 5 are acutely malnourished – double the emergency threshold. High malnutrition, when combined with an outbreak of cholera or measles, can lead to a surge in deaths among children and other vulnerable groups.

A child suffering from severe acute malnutrition receiving therapeutic milk at UNICEF-supported clinic in Loiyangalani, Marsabit County in Kenya. UNICEF in collaboration with partners is responding to the drought by providing urgently needed therapeutic feeding supplies. Credit: ©UNICEF Kenya/2017/Knowles-Coursin

A child suffering from severe acute malnutrition receiving therapeutic milk at UNICEF-supported clinic in Loiyangalani, Marsabit County in Kenya. UNICEF in collaboration with partners is responding to the drought by providing urgently needed therapeutic feeding supplies. Credit: ©UNICEF Kenya/2017/Knowles-Coursin


Underfunded response

We must urgently respond to this malnutrition crisis through treatment and prevention. Blanket supplementary feeding for young children and pregnant and lactating women can avert a catastrophic spike in mortality in the months ahead.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and partners have developed a US$30 million plan to intervene with blanket supplementary feeding in nine northern hotspots, but only 10 per cent of the required funds have been committed.

By the time the Government had declared drought a national disaster, over 2.6 million Kenyans were in urgent need of food aid. This figure will increase unless an appeal for US$166 million to support the most vulnerable is met; less than a third of that amount is available so far.

Don’t be fooled by the news of floods in recent weeks, this has done nothing to alleviate drought-induced malnutrition among children. Flooding is an indicator of poor infiltration resulting from lack of vegetation and soil degradation. This means that much water is flowing off the soil and too little is seeping in. We will face drought again before the onset of the short rains later this year.

Government efforts

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared a national drought disaster in February 2017 and committed US$128 million towards the national drought response.

The Government of Kenya has allocated resources for food aid and monthly cash transfers through its Hunger Safety Net Programme.

Its Livestock Insurance Programme offers a lifeline to affected pastoralists, enabling them to purchase animal feed to keep their herd alive during drought. In addition, offtake programmes are helping farmers to sell of their herds and restock as necessary when conditions improve.

These are commendable efforts but the number of people accessing such support is not enough, and the needs are fast outpacing the response.

Sustainable, not piecemeal

Climate scientists predict that weather patterns will continue to change. This will bring about more frequent, intense and widespread droughts and flash floods.

The vast majority of smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa are dependent on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods and are subject to the vagaries of the weather.

We need long-term solutions to alleviate the adverse impacts of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns.

We must build the resilience of communities and invest in agriculture and rural infrastructure. This includes turning away from dependency on rain-fed agriculture towards large-scale water harvesting and innovative irrigation systems.

Due to traditional farming practices, crop yields on the continent have about one-tenth the average productivity of Western farms. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where per capita food production is sadly falling. Areas in Somalia and coastal Kenya affected by the current drought have registered crop failure of 70 to 100 percent.

In richer countries, drought-resistant crop varieties have been developed to cope with water scarcity and other climate-induced shocks, including varieties of maize, cowpea and sorghum. A major hindrance to their adoption in East Africa is the weak legislative framework for registration and the lack of appropriate technologies.

Soil moisture management is becoming an increasingly important aspect of crop production. In partnership with the EU, WFP, IFAD and the Government of Kenya, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a developed programme to promote conservation agriculture, but this approach must be scaled up. UNDP has created capacities for food production in Turkana County, slowly building community resilience and food security through irrigation. This has the potential to reduce dependence on rain fed agriculture and create practical models for scaling up through the northern frontier development council in Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Lamu, Tana river, Garissa and Isiolo Counties.

With advances in mobile technology, smallholders now have better tools to forecast impending crises. The Kenyan Government should work closely with communities to build resilience and put in place mitigation measures before the onset of large-scale crises. County governments, created mainly to bring services closer to citizens, are particularly suited to mapping out priorities and matching them with viable solutions.

For example a county like Turkana has the potential of not only being the breadbasket of Kenya, but a source for fresh water for all of Kenya for the next 70 years.

Turkana women water their banana field from the nearby River Turkwel. Credit: UNDP Kenya

Turkana women water their banana field from the nearby River Turkwel. Credit: UNDP Kenya


The international community can contribute to these efforts by\supporting and partnering with policymakers, researchers and local communities on the effective uses of forecasting and early warning early response mechanisms.

Piecemeal responses to climate-related emergencies can no longer suffice. We need sustainable solutions to effectively tackle drought and its devastating impacts on Kenya’s most vulnerable communities, particularly women and children.

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Civil Society: “Everyday Things Are Getting Worse” for Children in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:19:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150070 Water delivery in Yemen. Credit: UN photo

Water delivery in Yemen. Credit: UN photo

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

Persistent attacks on health care in Yemen is severely impacting children’s well-being, civil society detailed at the launch of a report.

In the report, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, in collaboration with Save the Children, found a series of systematic attacks on medical facilities and personnel and families’ restricted access to health care across three of the most insecure governorates in the Middle Eastern nation.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), warring parties carried out at least 160 attacks against medical facilities and personnel between March 2015 and March 2017 through intimidation, air strikes, and impeded access to medical supplies.

In one incident, anti-Houthi forces raided and shutdown Al Thawra hospital for reportedly treating several injured Houthi-fighers. The hospital had also previously been shelled on numerous occasions.

In Saada, a missile struck the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported Shiara Hospital which killed six and wounded ten. The hospital served an area of approximately 120,000 people and was established as a de facto emergency room to provide access to health care for patients that would otherwise need to travel four to five hours along insecure roads to receive. A few days later, the same hospital sustained another rocket attack by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Many are now afraid because of the attacks, said Watchlist’s Research Officer Christine Monaghan.

“There is a real sense of fear in the country about not being able to access healthcare when needed, about what might happen to them if they are in a clinic or a hospital and it’s bombed at a time when they visit,” she told IPS.

Following the Shiara Hospital attack, an MSF doctor reported that maternity room deliveries have ceased. “Pregnant women are giving birth in caves rather than risk coming to the hospital,” they said.

This has compounded health challenges as access to life-saving treatment is limited.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than half of Yemen’s population including 8.1 million children lack access to basic health care—an increase of more than 70 percent since the conflict began in March 2015.

As of November 2016, there was 1 hospital bed for every 1,600 people and over 50 percent of medical facilities have closed.

One woman revealed the challenges of caring for her family in an interview with Save the Children, stating: “We cannot afford health care. If any of our children gets sick, we cannot do anything for them. We do not know where to go…two of my daughters, 5 and 3 years old, have persistent coughs, and I cant help them apart from giving them hugs.”

The ongoing blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has further inhibited access to necessary supplies to run medical facilities such as fuel.

In one case, a child in an incubator died after a hospital lost power and lacked fuel to use its generators.

Due to the collapse of immunization programs, there is also an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and rubella. According to the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes in Yemen.

Meanwhile, only 15 percent of the country’s humanitarian response plan is funded.

In response, Watchlist and Save the Children have called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and cease attacks on medical facilities, allow unhindered access to aid, and cooperate with investigations on such attacks.

The organisations also urged Secretary-General António Guterres to list the Saudi-led coalition as responsible for attacks on hospitals and grave violations of children’s rights in conflict in the annual report on children and armed conflict.

In 2016, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon listed the coalition in his report but subsequently removed it after pressure from Saudi Arabia and its allies. However, this does not have to be the case this year, Monaghan said.

“We are hoping the new Secretary-General uses his first months in office to make a strong statement that he will protect the mandate and hold perpetrators to account,” she told IPS.

Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “one of the worst in the world.” The country is on the brink of a famine with over 14 million food-insecure people. Over 70 percent of Yemenis are in need of some form of humanitarian aid.

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Mind the Treatment Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/mind-the-treatment-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mind-the-treatment-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/mind-the-treatment-gap/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:51:06 +0000 Vani Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149983 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester.]]> getty images/ istock photo

getty images/ istock photo

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
PHILADELPHIA AND NEW DELHI, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

Implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act will require a restructuring of health-care services
The Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017, has been hailed as a momentous reform. According to the Bill, every person will have the right to access mental health care operated or funded by the government; good quality and affordable health care; equality of treatment and protection from inhuman practices; access to legal services; and right to complain against coercion and cruelty. The Bill also empowers a mentally ill person to choose a treatment and her/his nominated representative, decriminalises attempted suicide, prohibits the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to mentally ill adults without the use of muscle relaxants and anaesthesia, and contains provisions for care, treatment and rehabilitation for those who have experienced severe stress and attempted suicide. While these are laudable and ambitious objectives as they address major concerns of mental health care, there have been some critiques drawing attention to the lack of funds, trained personnel, and insufficient emphasis on community care. The ground reality, however, suggests that these objectives are not just overambitious but an overkill.

Poor infrastructure, low funds
The Global Burden of Disease Study shows that in 2013, 50% of all disease burden in India was caused by non-communicable diseases, while mental disorders accounted for about 6% of the total disease burden. A third of this is due to depression, which also significantly contributes to suicide and ischaemic heart disease. Worse, suicide is a leading cause of death in people in India aged 15-29.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

There are only 43 government-run mental hospitals across all of India to provide services to more than 70 million people living with mental disorders. There are 0.30 psychiatrists, 0.17 nurses, and 0.05 psychologists per 1,00,000 mentally ill patients in the country. The case of the Bareilly mental hospital — one of three major mental hospitals in Uttar Pradesh — is stunning. In this hospital, 350 patients can be admitted and around 200 patients can attend the out-patient department every day. But all these patients would be at the mercy of only one psychiatrist!

At the macro level, the proposed health expenditure of 1.2% of GDP in the Budget for 2017-18 is among the lowest in the world. In real terms, public health expenditure has consistently declined since 2013-14. Of the total health budget, a mere 1-2% is spent on mental health.

But this is a small part of the explanation of the inadequacy and abysmal quality of mental health services in India. Underlying this deplorable state of affairs is a pervasive perception that those with mental illnesses are pathological or even criminal; hence they do not deserve the type of rehabilitation given to those with physical ailments. Besides, the treatment gap (the difference between those suffering from mental illnesses and those seeking medical/psychiatric care) is widened because of the social stigma attached to such illnesses. In fact, many poor people hide their illnesses and endanger their lives. Others argue that it is not so much stigma but ignorance and lack of knowledge, myths, and supernatural beliefs that impede treatment. Women typically face larger treatment gaps as they are vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse and inhuman treatment.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Ethnographic evidence from the Human Rights Watch Report 2014 relating to women inpatients is gruesome. Deepali, a woman with a perceived psychosocial disability, said: “The nurse would sometimes forcefully put the pills in my mouth and stroke my throat to send them down, the way I feed my dogs… I woke up one night and I couldn’t move; my body was in intense physical pain. A nurse came and jabbed an injection into my body, without even taking off my clothes. You are treated worse than animals.”

Often, all women and girls were admitted without their consent and, as the team left, they cried out in despair, “send me home” or “take me home”. Unable to cope with mentally ill relatives, families often abandon them in mental hospitals and elsewhere. In one case, a woman who was declared “fit for discharge” in the 1990s was still in the institution as of August 2013 because of lack of alternative resettlement options for her.

Some women were not even informed that ECT was being administered. Psychiatric nurses admitted that ECT was administered not just on violent and suicidal patients but also on new admissions who tend to be unmanageable.

Women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in institutions are often subject to not just physical and verbal abuse but also sexual violence. Some women went to a hospital for three months and returned one month pregnant. Not a single FIR was filed.

Government hospitals refuse to admit “mentally ill” persons in the ICU on the grounds that this facility could be put to better use. A woman suffering from breast cancer for two-three years was denied treatment and subsequently died.

Shift to community-based care
An emphatic case could be made for shifting from institutional care to community-based care for people suffering from mental disorders. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, 2017 offers corroborative evidence from VISHRAM (the Vidharbha Stress and Health Programme), which is a community-based mental health initiative. The reduction in the treatment gap was due to increased supply of mental health services through front-line workers and their collaborative linkage with the physicians and psychiatrists in the facilities, as well as increased demand for mental health services due to improved mental health literacy. The substantial reduction in the median cost of care resulted from availability of general as well as specialist services in the village itself.

Whether legislation such as the Mental Healthcare Bill help overcome supply and demand barriers seems highly unlikely, as the root causes lie in pervasive negative attitudes, massive neglect of mental health care, rampant abuse and unchecked inhuman practices, and weak redressal and enforcement mechanisms. The Bill seeks to address major lacunae in mental health care and is thus an important step forward. However, its implementation will require substantially larger public resources and, more importantly, restructuring of mental healthcare services with a key role for the community in their provision, rapid expansion of mental health literacy, effective monitoring and enforcement of the objectives envisioned in it. With limited awareness of these challenges, and with a slight risk of exaggeration, the Bill is an overkill.

This opinion editorial was first published in The Hindu

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Women’s Health Policies Should Focus on NCDshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/womens-health-policies-should-focus-on-ncds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-health-policies-should-focus-on-ncds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/womens-health-policies-should-focus-on-ncds/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 00:02:56 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149895 Professor Robyn Norton, co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Professor Robyn Norton, co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health. Credit: George Institute/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

Science and medicine were not subjects of dinnertime conversations in the Norton household in Christchurch, New Zealand, but Professor Robyn Norton grew up observing her parents’ commitment to equity and social justice in improving people’s lives. It left an indelible impression on her young mind.

Her high school years coincided with the women’s movement reaching its peak. She got drawn into thinking about addressing women’s health issues and moved to Sydney, Australia to enroll in a Master’s in Public Health.Norton feels its time the global health agenda expands from a predominant focus on women’s reproductive organs to include women’s whole bodies — and the NCDs, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

“It was a light bulb moment for me. At that time, women’s reproductive rights and the high rates of maternal and infant mortality were paramount in global and women’s health agendas, which in the next 30 years would result in significant improvements in maternal health. Since then the burden of disease has changed. Today, the single highest cause of death for women in every single country is non-communicable diseases [NCDs] and injuries,” says Professor Norton, who is the co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health, a not-for-profit medical research institute that aims to increase the provision of safe, effective and affordable healthcare worldwide.

In 1999, she co-founded the Institute with Professor Stephen MacMahon for three main reasons. First, a recognition that the global burden of disease had changed, particularly in lower and middle-income countries where NCDs and injuries were emerging as a leading cause of death and disability. Secondly, the expertise to manage the emerging epidemic of NCDs and injuries was not available in these countries. Thirdly, most of the global collaborations between the high income and low income countries were still focused on maternal and child health and under nutrition.

“Global health policymakers needed to acknowledge and address these issues. Our expertise in NCDs and injuries, along with working in low and middle income countries, made it the right time to set up the Institute. The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation study, which emphasised the growing importance of NCDs and injuries was release around the same time, providing a significant impetus for us to move forward,” says Norton, who is Professor of Global Health at the University of Oxford and Public Health at the University of Sydney.

The Institute founders chose to partner with the University of Sydney as they felt geographically Sydney would be a natural hub for collaborations, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Soon the Institute began collaborative partnerships for research in India.

“We realised that if we were to make a difference in the world, we had to be in a country with a huge population. India also fitted our original idea because it was going through a transition with triple burden of disease and changing demographics. It was starting to see under nutrition co-existing with over nutrition; infectious diseases beginning to co-exist with the growing incidence of cardiovascular diseases and strokes,” explains Norton.

The model of an external organisation partnering with colleagues in India to particularly address NCDs and injuries was a relatively new one for India. The Institute’s biggest challenge was to raise the importance of NCDs and the need to address the burden of these diseases, which account for seven of the top 10 killers of women, and 18 million women around the world die from them each year.

Norton feels its time the global health agenda expands from a predominant focus on women’s reproductive organs to include women’s whole bodies — and the NCDs, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the George Institute in India. “We have laid the foundation in India for growing the institute with a larger critical mass and greater impact. We would like to produce research that impacts on policy and practice that ultimately leads to reduction in NCDs and injuries and greater access to healthcare for a larger proportion of the populace,” she adds.

Evidence shows that there is a lack of gender sensitive research, data and policy, which is impeding gender equity in health. The Institute has joined a global call for a gendered approach to the collection and utilisation of health data.

Says Norton, “As we deepen our understanding of how the human body works, we know that women and men respond differently to disease and to possible interventions. We are also beginning to understand that health systems respond differently to women and men such that both access to care and the quality of care differs. Yet, far too commonly, there is no delineation of gender in health data, and women are underrepresented in many scientific and clinical studies.”

To improve the health of women and girls in developing countries, Norton says, “We have to look at the leading causes of death and disability and then allocate resources into addressing those issues. We now know that seven out of 10 causes of death and disability for women in India are NCDs. It is critical to begin with making women understand the risk factors of NCDs and how best to prevent and manage those.”

She suggests restructuring the health services and utilising existing workforce by retraining them to integrate NCDs. “India has enormous resource in the cadre of Accredited Social Health Activists [ASHA], who have been focusing on improving the health of women during pregnancy. If we can look at ways of upskilling them then it is going to be incredibly important as part of the process of bringing more women into the health sector.”

The Institute has been researching innovative ways to provide greater access to high quality, low cost essential drugs in developing countries.

“The approach we are taking is three-fold. First, looking at ways to make generic drugs more widely available. Secondly, combining drugs, for example four pills into a single pill, to keep costs low and ensure greater adherence. Thirdly, training non-physician healthcare workers and equipping primary healthcare centres to provide quality care, so people have the confidence in their quality of care and realise that they don’t need to travel miles to a tertiary healthcare centre or pay lots of money to see a specialist for everyday illnesses,” she adds.

The other issue close to her heart has been road traffic injuries. She is the Chair Emeritus of the World Bank and the World Health Organisation supported Road Traffic Injuries Research Network, which is aimed at building research capacity and agendas to address the growing burden of road traffic injuries in low and middle income countries.

“It has been a tendency to think about road traffic injuries as an accident or an act of God rather than a health problem. We have to take the same scientific approach to injury as we have used, for example, to address heart disease. Injuries in many respects fall between the world of infectious diseases and NCDs. Ten percent of people die as a result of injuries worldwide and the burden of injuries mostly rests on adolescents and young pre-middle aged people,” says Norton.

She feels India needs to look at the data and causative factors, monitor it and then intervene, to address the causes of road traffic accidents.

“We know that speeding, drink driving, not wearing helmets, seatbelts and child restraints, are some of the key factors associated with road traffic injuries. If we focus on educating the public on those issues, along with introducing and enforcing legislation, it would make a huge difference in India. We need advocacy and leadership by governments, non-governmental organisations and academics, such as ourselves, to take these issues together,” she adds.

*Neena Bhandari is a Sydney-based journalist and president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association (Australia and South Pacific).

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Tomatoes, Limes and Sex-Selective Abortionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 04:45:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149843 Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

When Bimla Chandrasekharan saw that women who gave birth to baby girls were being sent out of the house by their angry husbands and mothers-in-law she realised a basic biology lesson was needed.

“We start educating them on this XY chromosome,” Chandrasekharan who is Founder and Director of Indian women’s rights organisation EKTA told IPS. “(But) we don’t say XY chromosome, we do it with tomatoes and limes. ‘Tomato tomato’ it becomes a girl, ‘tomato lime’ it becomes a boy.”

It is just a start but this lesson helps to show fathers that they in fact determine the sex of their children.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), there are now 117 million girls who are ‘missing’ worldwide because of sex selective abortion and infanticide.

The problem ballooned in India and China in the 1990s, partly due to increased access to ultrasounds. But according to the UNFPA the problem has also now spread to new regions including Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

A new UNFPA program to address the problem in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Nepal will draw on the experiences of both India and China in addressing the problem.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.” -- Luis Mora, UNFPA

“Son preference is a practice that affects many societies around the world,” Luis Mora, Chief of the UN Population Fund’s Gender, Human Rights & Culture Branch told IPS.

“What we have seen over the last three decades is that the practice that initially was considered a sort of exception in China and India … has moved to other countries.”

Yet while the increase in sex selection has coincided with access to technologies like ultrasound, both Mora and Chandrasekharan agree that banning ultrasounds alone won’t fix the problem.

“In a patriarchal society there is always a preference for a male child,” says Chandrasekharan.

This is why EKTA challenges patriarchy and teaches mothers and fathers why they should want to have daughters just as much as they want sons.

Some of the reasons why sons are preferred over daughters are economic. In India parents have to pay a dowry for daughters. In many countries only sons can inherit property, daughters cannot.

But there are other reasons too.

As Chandrasekharan points out, some mothers fear bringing daughters into a world where they are likely to experience sexual harassment and abuse, a lifetime of unpaid housework, and marriage as young as 12 or 13.

Chandrasekharan, is an active member of a national campaign called Girls Count, which aims to fight sex selection in India, and receives funding from both UNFPA and UN Women.

She says that within Girls Count there are “two streams.”

“One stream of people believe in strict enforcement of the law,” says Chandrasekharan, “The other stream is challenging patriarchy, I belong to that stream,” She adds that she also believes in the law, but doesn’t think that laws alone work.

As Chandrasekharan points out India’s Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique Act was introduced in 1994, banning prenatal scanning and revealing the sex to parents, yet this law has not stopped sex-selective abortions.

Yet Chandrasekharan is also careful to say that challenging patriarchy doesn’t mean that her organisation is anti-men. Patriarchy is a system, she says that has consequences for both men and women, but mostly benefits men.

“We are not against you as an individual we are talking about a system,” she tells the men and boys she works with.

Mora also agrees that it is not possible to end sex selection without addressing gender inequality.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.”

This includes giving rights, equal access to education, employment and land, says Mora. “These are the practical things that make a sustainable change.”

This is also why EKTA introduces role models to the community, to show that not all women will spend their lives doing unpaid housework.

EKTA’s most recent role model came from the local community herself. At a young age she met a family member who told her that she had flown to meet them by plane.

Even though the girl came from a marginalised Dalit family, she told her family that she wanted to be the ‘engine driver’ of a plane, since she didn’t yet know the word for pilot.

Last year, says Chandrasekharan, she became a full-fledged pilot and returned to speak to the community as part of EKTA’s role models program.

UNFPA’s new program in the six selected countries is funded by the European Union, however many other UNFPA programs are now in jeopardy, after the United States’ decision to withdraw all of its funding from the agency on Monday.

IPS spoke to Chandrasekharan during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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“Devastating Consequences” for Women, Girls as U.S. Defunds UN Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency/#comments Wed, 05 Apr 2017 22:38:25 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149823 Mothers and babies wait for health screening at a US funded health clinic in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

Mothers and babies wait for health screening at a US funded health clinic in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2017 (IPS)

The U.S. has withdrawn all of its funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that works on family planning and reproductive health in over 150 countries.

The decision is based on what the UNFPA says is an erroneous claim that it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation (in China).”

The claim was made by the U.S. State Department in a letter on Monday announcing the cuts, but has been described repeatedly as baseless, by those who know the UNFPA’s work.

According to the UNFPA, it does not promote abortions and instead “accords the highest priority to voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies to eliminate recourse to abortion.”

In a statement released in response to the funding cuts, the UNFPA said that “we have always valued the United States as a trusted partner and leader in helping to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

The U.S. is one of the largest contributors to UNFPA having provided over $75 million in 2015 alone, the third highest contribution from a government after the United Kingdom and Sweden. The U.S. is also the second largest funder of UNFPA’s humanitarian operations. Like other UN agencies, UNFPA is funded by governments voluntarily.

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organization working on sexual and reproductive rights.

International Women’s Health Coalition’s Director of Advocacy and Policy Shannon Kowalski told IPS that the cuts will have “devastating consequences” for girls and women around the world.

“UNFPA has played a critical role in getting services to the most marginalised women…now their lives and health are at stake because of this,” Kowalski told IPS. 

She noted that the UN agency’s frontline work in crisis situations will be most affected, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to women who have been targeted by the Islamic State (IS) or other groups in the Middle Eastern region. 

According to the UN Foundation, the elimination of U.S. support threatens UNFPA’s ability to reach an estimated 48,000 women with safe childbirth in Syria and 55 women’s centers providing support for over 15,000 women and girl survivors of gender-based violence in Iraq, including one dedicated to more than 700 Yazidi sexual violence survivors.

Around the world, the UNFPA says that US funding in 2016 helped it to save the lives of 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth, prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies, ensure 1,251 fistula surgeries and prevent 295,000 unsafe abortions.

Executive Director of UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project Seema Jalan told IPS that the U.S. government is also the primary funder of the only maternity ward for Syrian women in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.   

“Pregnant Syrian women will have absolutely nowhere to go to deliver their babies,” she stated. 

Kowalski highlighted the larger implications of the U.S.’ decision, stating: “It will send a clear message that the world doesn’t care about responding to women in the most marginalized situations and in many respects, it will indulge in extremists that are looking to capitalize on this marginalization and abandonment of women.” 

This is not the first time that the UNFPA has experienced such cuts from the U.S. government. President George W. Bush previously withdrew $34 million from the agency between 2002 to 2008, similarly citing the agency’s involvement in coercive policies in China. 

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organisation working on sexual and reproductive rights.  

“The Chinese government does still [violent women’s rights]… but because UNFPA is active in the country in supporting the implementation of voluntary sexual and reproductive health services, they link the two and say that UNFPA is directly supporting these coercive policies which is not true,” Kowalski stated. 

One such coercive policy is the East Asian Nation’s one child regulation which has been slowly phased out since 2015, a move that UNFPA helped the country make, Jalan said. 

“The main purpose of UNFPA in China has been to introduce the concept of quality of care and voluntary family planning that is rights-based,” Jalan told IPS. 

Jalan added that UNFPA in China did not even provide assistance to the Chinese government or its family planning agency in 2016, a claim that the State Department makes in its letter.  

However, due to the doubling in U.S. contributions since 2002 and the unprecedented humanitarian crises around the world, the global impacts of the recent decision is expected to be far greater than before. 

Kowalski urged Congress to revoke the Kemp-Kasten Amendment which was referenced to defund the UN agency.   

The amendment prohibits foreign aid to any organization, including U.S. organizations and multilateral organizations, that is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. It is similar to the recently reinstated global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, which forbids foreign groups receiving U.S. assistance to provide information about abortion or abortion services. 

Already, numerous U.S. politicians from New York and California condemned the decision, stating: “President Trump’s hypocrisy has reached new heights with his decision to halt U.S. assistance to the United Nations Population Fund. The President just recently claimed to have ‘tremendous respect’ for women and honored their role around the world, and yet within a month he has issued a decision to cut off funding for the UNFPA…To cut off this funding is a cruel decision that will not only hurt women and their children, but will also further damage the leadership role of the United States around the globe. We call on the President to put women over politics and reverse this decision immediately.” 

Jalan said that this was an “important” start, but urged for a more bipartisan initiative to reverse the decision. 

“Funding for women and girl’s basic healthcare, assuring that a Syrian refugee pregnant woman can actually have a safe delivery and that her child can survive that delivery, someone who has survived sexual violence and can have access to care and support—we believe that that is a bipartisan issue,” she told IPS. 

Kowalski also stressed the need for the international community to step up and increase their support to help close UNFPA’s funding gap.

Upon the reintroduction of the global gag rule, several countries raised approximately $190 million to help fill imminent funding gaps including Sweden, Canada, and Finland who each pledged $21 million towards global access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

“Without UNFPA being able to provide these services, the consequences for women will be devastating,” Kowalski said. 

The funds allocated to UNFPA for the fiscal year 2017 are to be reverted to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health operations in developing countries. 

The decision marks the first of the Trump administration’s promised cuts to the UN.  

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UN to Investigate Violations Against Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:03:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149667 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts.

After speaking to hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following the retaliation, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights Yanghee Lee found cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces.

Nearly half of the 220 Rohingya interviewed by the UN said a family member had been killed, while 52 out of 101 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence from security forces.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations and expressed disappointment in the Council’s move.

“Such kind of action is not acceptable to Myanmar as it not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances. Let the Myanmar people choose the best and the most effective course of action to address the challenges in Myanmar,” said Myanmar’s Ambassador Htin Lynn.

Myanmar’s investigatory committee had recently interviewed alleged victims and is due to announce its findings by August.

Proposed by the European Union, the resolution was adopted without a vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council and called for “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

India and China did not back the decision, stating that they, along with Myanmar, would “disassociate” themselves from the mission.

Though Lee had initially urged for a full international commission of inquiry, many human rights groups applauded the move.

“[An] international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Director John Fisher.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Champa Patel echoed similar sentiments, stating that the mission is “long overdue” and that Myanmar’s government should “welcome” it.

“The world has a right to know the full truth of events,” she stated.

Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and enacted several discriminatory policies, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

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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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