Inter Press ServiceWomen’s Health – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 22 Nov 2017 17:23:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 The Weinstein effect: The Global Scourge of Sexual Harassment & Exploitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/weinstein-effect-global-scourge-sexual-harassment-exploitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=weinstein-effect-global-scourge-sexual-harassment-exploitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/weinstein-effect-global-scourge-sexual-harassment-exploitation/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 13:46:06 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152877 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

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The Weinstein effect: The Global Scourge of Sexual Harassment & Exploitation

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against rape in Bangalore, India. 2014. STRINGER/REUTERS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 3 2017 (IPS)

When the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA’s) Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, detailed an incident involving the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for The New York Times in their eyepopping investigation into decades of alleged sexual harassment, it came as a shock to many.

So now we know.

What started as a Hollywood scandal featuring a powerful man and a string of young women whose lives he had the power to shape has turned into a global shockwave revealing a staggering scale of harassment, misogyny and violence.

Frankly, though, the fact that this problem is too big to sweep under the frayed edges of the world’s carpet has come as a surprise to only half the population. The other half knows what it is to have to fend off inappropriate remarks and unwelcome advances while fearing that doing so may jeopardise their careers.

Consider this. One in three women has experienced sexual harassment, violence, assault or rape in their lifetime. These statistics have been out there for years, but it took the Weinstein story to bring them into public consciousness.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, with some national studies suggesting the figure may be as high as 70 per cent.

Around 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at, with current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends being the most common perpetrators. Around 700 million women alive today were married as children. Of those women, more than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before the age of 15.

Misogyny is deeply ingrained across the world. It feeds into a sense of entitlement by men that legitimises sexual harassment and sometimes violence. In some parts of the developing world the culture of entitlement and gender inequality is so pervasive that women themselves buy into it. The World Bank Gender Data Portal shows that 76.3 per cent of women in Mali and 92.1 per cent in Guinea believe a man is justified in beating his wife if she goes out without telling him, neglects the children, refuses sex, burns the food or argues with him.

From Hollywood via the corridors of power in Westminster to New Delhi and Nairobi, we face a gender inequality crisis on an epic scale. Sexual and gender-based exploitation, harassment and violence is a global issue.

Sometimes the sheer size of a problem may engender a sense of hopelessness. Many people feel that climate change or poverty, for example, are just too big to solve; that the individual is powerless in the face of such scale and complexity.

But this is not the case here. There are things we can and must do. After all, while much of gender inequality is institutionalised in social, economic and political structures, it is individual men and boys who exploit, intimidate, harass and assault women and girls.

How?

There are five key frontiers for behaviour change.

The first is home. In too many families across the world boys are more valued than girls, and an attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ excuses much aggression, exploitation and injustice. Husbands must set an example of respect for their wives. Parents must raise their sons to value girls and to respect their rights and autonomy. A girl’s body is her own. A boy has no right to comment on it or touch it uninvited, no matter what a girl might be wearing, or where she is.

The second front for action is education. Schools must teach respect and gender equality to both sexes. An organisation that does just this is No Means No Worldwide, which partners with local organisations in Kenya and Malawi to work in schools. Girls are taught assertiveness and boundary setting, which is backed up with physical self-defence training. But boys are a crucial part of the scheme too. Dramatic changes in boys’ attitudes to girls and sex have been seen after only six sessions, and rape cases have fallen by 50% in some areas of Nairobi after the training.

The workplace is the third area for action. Victims of harassment or assault must be able to report their experiences without fear of retaliation on their careers. Workplace expectations and procedures must be clear and transparent, and action following a report of inappropriate behaviour must be equally clear and transparent. Impunity that has lingered too long, aided and abetted by patriarchy, must no longer prevail.

Fourth, when inappropriate behaviour becomes criminal behaviour, women must feel confident that reporting sexual crime will not add to their trauma. Police forces in many parts of the world have no special training in dealing with victims of sexual abuse and assault, and many do not take it seriously. They deserve to be treated with sensitivity and respect, and need to know that police will investigate their cases and arrest perpetrators.

Finally, justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station.

Most survivors of sexual harassment, violence and exploitation are far from the glitz of Hollywood. Many are poor and ill-educated. Countless are growing up in cultures where their life chances are severely diminished simply by virtue of their gender and circumstance.

If the Weinstein story and its aftermath have shown us anything, it is that sexual exploitation and harassment is part of everyday experience for girls and women no matter where they live in the world.

This has to stop and we as men have to be at the vanguard of change. #HeForShe

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Follow him on twitter.

This article was originally published by Thomson Reuters, and was published with express permission from the writer

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Women and Malnutrition in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/women-malnutrition-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-malnutrition-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/women-malnutrition-africa/#comments Tue, 31 Oct 2017 15:55:42 +0000 Raghav Gaiha and Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152836 Raghav Gaiha, is (Honorary) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England; and Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA).

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Raghav Gaiha, is (Honorary) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England; and Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA).

By Raghav Gaiha and Vani S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI and PHILADELPHIA, Oct 31 2017 (IPS)

Undernutrition is widespread and a key reason for poor child health in many developing countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, around 40 percent of children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth, that is, severely reduced height-for-age relative to their growth potential. Stunting is a result of periods of undernutrition in early childhood, and it has been found to have a series of adverse long-term effects in those who survive childhood. It is negatively associated with mental development, human capital accumulation, adult health, and with economic productivity and income levels in adulthood.

Raghav Gaiha

Vitamin A deficiency is associated with the higher risk of morbidity and mortality, and ocular disorders such as night blindness, xerophthalmia and blindness, affecting infants, children and women during pregnancy and lactation. African regions account for the greatest number of preschool children with night blindness and for more than one-quarter of all children with subclinical vitamin A deficiency.

The central premise is that agricultural development has enormous potential to make significant contribution in reducing malnutrition and the associated ill health. With its close links to both the immediate causes of undernutrition (diets, feeding practices, and health) and its underlying determinants (such as income, education, access to WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene- and health services, and gender equity), the agriculture sector can play a strong role in improving nutrition outcomes.

Women are vitally important agents, both in their roles as producers and as custodians of household welfare. Their importance, moreover, is generally greater in the lowest-income settings and among households with high dependency ratios—in which a large proportion of household members are nonearning and often nutritionally vulnerable dependents.

The resources and income flows that women control often have positive impacts on household health and nutrition. In some countries, women tend to lack access to economic opportunities outside the domestic sphere to which traditional customs often confine them, especially in rural areas. They are also very often severely constrained by time and the multiple—often simultaneous—roles they play as producers and caregivers. Agricultural programmes and policies that empower and enable women and that involve them in decisions and activities throughout the life of the programme achieve greater nutritional impacts.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Although women comprise more than 50% of the agricultural workforce in most of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region, the productivity gap between men and women farmers persists. To illustrate how wide the gap is, in Tanzania, Malawi, and Uganda narrowing the gender gap in agricultural productivity has the potential of raising the gross domestic product by USD 105 million, USD 100 million, and USD 65 million, respectively (IFAD,FAO and WFP, 2015). Women farmers typically use lower levels of purchased technological inputs, such as fertilizer and high-yielding seed varieties. That women lack access to these key technological inputs explains a significant portion of the productivity gap. They are often hesitant to adopt these technologies if they do not control the benefits that accrue from adopting. Moreover, women also face unique challenges, due to their lifecycle and reproductive roles, which further influence their participation on- and off-farm.

In Kenya, new varieties of sweet potatoes rich in beta-carotene were introduced to women farmers with an end goal of improving vitamin A intake of young children, thereby preventing vitamin A deficiency. There was a significant increase in the intake of vitamin A-rich foods, among children whose mothers received both the production-focused intervention of planting materials and access to agricultural extension services, and the consumption-focused intervention of nutrition education and training in food processing and preparation. By contrast, there was a decrease in vitamin A intake among children whose mothers received only the production-focused inputs. This example suggests that: (a) women’s farm production offers an entry point for interventions that can improve nutrition; and (b) interventions that increase women’s agricultural productivity and increase their health and nutrition knowledge may yield more benefits than ones that target only productivity or only knowledge.

In Ethiopia, a women-focused goat development project was expanded to include interventions to promote vitamin A intake, nutrition and health education, training in gardening and food preparation, and distribution of vegetable seeds. Goat owning households consumed all produced milk; 87% by the adults as hoja; children in the participating households had slightly more diversified diets; they were also more likely to consume milk more than 4 times a day. As substitutions occur between foods, in the absence of anthropometric indicators, nothing definitive could be inferred about improvements in child nutrition.

Women’s employment in agriculture has positive impacts on nutrition in the household when women have decision-making power over resource allocation. In Uganda, for example, evidence from randomized controlled trials showed positive impacts from biofortified crops, including orange-fleshed sweet potato, on vitamin A status among women and children. Ownership of livestock was associated with better household food security in Kampala. However, there were mixed impacts on the links between women’s empowerment, intrahousehold decision-making, and better nutrition outcomes.

Failure to understand cultural norms and the gender dynamics within the household can result in unanticipated outcomes. In the Gambia, for example, a project geared to increasing women’s rice production was so successful that the land it was grown on was reclassified internally within the household. This resulted in output from that land being sold by men as opposed to women. Women therefore lost their original income stream, but remained committed to increased labour.

Vegetables and legumes are often regarded as women’s crops. Recognizing this, a project in Togo was successful because it promoted the introduction of soybeans as a legume rather than as a cash crop. Promotion as a cash crop would have resulted in the crop switching to male control. Interventions promoting the production of animal source foods also assessed their impact on maternal income or women’s control over income. The results were quite mixed. For example, an intervention involving intensified dairy farming in Kenya showed that an important share of the additional income was controlled by women, whereas in Ethiopia men’s incomes benefited significantly more from intensified dairying than did women’s. Whether women’s income is likely to increase depends on the livestock or aquaculture production system, the nature of the intervention, and cultural beliefs and practices relating to gender. Even if the intervention is targeted to women’s livestock and aquaculture activities, women lose control over the income generated by those activities.

In conclusion, it is arguable that there are improved impacts on nutrition if agricultural interventions are targeted to women and when specific work is done around women’s empowerment (for example, through behaviour change communication), mediated through women’s time use, women’s own health and nutrition status, and women’s access to and control over resources as well as intrahousehold decision-making power. That this may be dismissed out of hand is not unlikely either, given the persistence of male dominance.

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Adolescent Health Congress Skirts Issue of Abuse, Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 11:34:43 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152795 Twenty-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi of Mahalapye, Botswana is grateful she was never sent to a so-called “hyena” like scores of girls in neighboring Malawi were. In a ritual approved by the community, a solo man (the hyena) would have sex with the adolescent girls of an entire village to “sexually cleanse” them so they would be […]

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Attendees at the 11th Congress on Adolescent Health in New Delhi, Oct. 27-29, 2017. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Attendees at the 11th Congress on Adolescent Health in New Delhi, Oct. 27-29, 2017. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEW DELHI, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

Twenty-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi of Mahalapye, Botswana is grateful she was never sent to a so-called “hyena” like scores of girls in neighboring Malawi were.

In a ritual approved by the community, a solo man (the hyena) would have sex with the adolescent girls of an entire village to “sexually cleanse” them so they would be considered fit for marriage."It makes sense to bring village and religious leaders in this conversation on violent crimes. After all, most of them are validated by the society and traditions.” --Gigi Phaladi

“I am so glad that in Botswana we do not have hyenas, but we face other forms of sexual violence such as stepfathers molesting stepdaughters and giving them HIV,” says Phaladi, founder of Pillar of Hope, a project that counsels, educates and trains local adolescents to tackle these challenges.

Violent Crimes Left Out

Last week, Phaladi attended the 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health which was held in New Delhi and focused on different health aspects of youth in the age group of 10-24. Speaking to an audience that included diplomats, bureaucrats, researchers, doctors and activists, Phaladi stressed that if the problems of adolescents were to be truly addressed, they had to be involved in the process.

Talking to IPS on the sidelines of the Congress later, Phaladi said that there were adolescents who experienced the most heinous and violent crimes across the world such as sexual assaults, trafficking, violent social norms and religious practices of violent crime.

Aside from HIV, beating, molestation, and sexual exploitation at schools by teachers – the challenges faced by adolescents were multiple. But the adolescents directly affected by the violence and crime were not included in the process to address them.

“You see, the laws in these countries are not firm enough to protect the adolescents from these crimes. So, it’s not just a health issue, but a governance deficiency and we need to talk about this at such events, from the adolescents themselves,” she said.

Unfortunately, violent crimes like sexual slavery, hyenas, molestation at schools or breast ironing – another crime reported widely from Western Africa – were missing from the Congress on Adolescent Health, as were issues of cross-border sex trafficking of adolescent boys and girls in Asia and community-backed forced prostitution of young women in India. Mental health was discussed as a generic issue, but rising cases of mental illness in militarized and conflict zones were also missing.

Lack of Studies and Data

A big reason behind this could be lack of any data, said Rajib Acharya, a researcher from Population Council of India, a New Delhi-based NGO researching population issues across India. Acharya just conducted a study of 20,000 adolescents aged 10-14 in two states of India – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Presented at the Congress, the study showed, among others, severe levels of anemia among the adolescents. According to the study, 1.2 million and 2.8 million are severely anemic, respectively, in these two States.

But it took four months and a team of 50 researchers to interview the adolescents on nutrition and sexual and reproductive health.  Three weeks were spent on training the researchers, and analyzing the data took another four to five months. To generate data on multiple issues would mean multiplying the investment of this time, effort and money, Acharya reminded.

He also said that if the issue was complicated, sensitive and involved  traveling to conflict zones, it was less likely to be taken up for research as gathering credible date would be incredibly hard.

Forums like the Congress should ideally be utilized to bring on the hard-hitting issues related to adolescents,  said Thant Aung Phyo, a young sexual and reproductive healthcare activist in Myanmar. Pointing out the severe restrictions on adolescents in accessing abortion care, Phyo said, “The rigid government policies and social traditions that restrict the rights of adolescents need to be brought up and discussed at forums like this.”

Myanmar is currently caught in a human rights  disaster where over a million Rohingyas had been forced to flee their homes, taking refuge in neighboring countries including Bangladesh, India and Thailand.  The refugees included hundreds of thousands of adolescents who are living in trauma, poverty, fear and uncertainty.

Decribing their suffering as “unfathomable” and “unprecedented”, Kate Gilmore,  Deputy High Commissioner of the UN Human Rights Commission, says that refugee and migrant adolscents  across the world must be provided  free and regular healthcare as a right.

“Migrant adolescents must have access to healthcare without the fear of being reported, detained and deported,” Gilmore said.

Improving World’s Largest Adolescent Program

India, home to the world’s largest adolescent population (253 million), launched  an adolescent-specific program in 2014 – the first country in the world to do so on such a scale. Titled Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (KRSK), the program aimed at improving health and nutrition of adolescents besides protecting them against violence and injuries.

It is currently run in 230 of the country’s 707 districts,  but even after three years, there was  little data available on the program’s impact. The data presented at the event by the health ministry of India at the Congress only specified the facilities built by the government so far (700 adolescent health clinics) and services provided (training over 20,000 adolescents as peer educators).

However, the selection of the peer educators and the skills of the field workers had been questioned by experts from the non government sector.

“The peer educator component is the most controversial aspect of the program. The skill of the workforce on the ground is also questionable,” observed Sunil Mehra, one of the pioneers on adolscent health in India and head of Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child which coorganised the Congress.

Agreed Rajib Acharya: “If we spoke with community level  health workers, we would see  that only 5 or 6 out of  every 30 or 40 knew what they were supposed to say or do to adolescent patients.”

On Saturday, however,  the ministry  announced certain changes  to improve the RKSK program and monitor certain services  Said Ajay Khera, Deputy Commissioner (Adolescent Health) at the minsitry, the government would “now make the program  promotion and prevention-centric and monitorable”.

The ministry would particularly monitor its  Weekly Iron Folic Supplementation (WIFS) programme  on digital platforms to tackle anemea among adolescents. A special toolkit called “Sathiya” was also launched at the World Congress on Friday for better peer education. The Toolkit—available both in print and online – focused on six broad themes of the RKSK such as integrated child health , sexual and reproductive health, injuries and violence, nutrition, substance abuse and mental health.

Leveraging the Traditional  System

There are other instituions and systems that  India and other countries could make better use of  to address the “wicked problems” faced by the adolescents, reminded  Anthony Costello, Director, Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Promoting greater interaction among adolescents of different age and sex is one. Involving parents in learning of the health issues of adolescents is another. Talking of difficult and disturbing issues like breast ironing, rape, trafficking is yet another. We need to use all of these,” Costello told IPS.

Gigi Phaladi added that traditioonal and religious leaders  also must be roped in to talk about adolescents. In Botswana, she said, pastors in churches were urged to talk of gender violence, HIV and other gender-based crimes.

“People were surprised to hear their religious leaders talk about sex etc, but they also started paying attention. The general feeling among people was ‘if the pastors do not feel hesitant to talk about these issues, why should we?’ So, it makes sense to bring village and religious leaders in this conversation on violent crimes. After all, most of them are validated by the society and traditions,”she said.

The three-day (Oct. 27-29 ) 11th Congress on Adolescent Health, which had 1,200 participants from 65 countries, concluded on Sunday.

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Stopping Child Marriage Foreverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/stopping-child-marriage-forever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stopping-child-marriage-forever http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/stopping-child-marriage-forever/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 06:58:47 +0000 Shahiduzzaman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152788 The mother moved in like a tigress to save her cub. In 2015, when her 13-year-old daughter Shumi Akhter was about to be married off, Panna Begum pleaded with her husband, Dulal Mia, to cancel the marriage he’d arranged for their daughter. Panna argued vehemently that Shumi was just a child and it was wrong […]

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Akhter and her mother, Panna Begum, who saved her from being married off at the age of 13. Credit: Shahiduzzaman/IPS

By Shahiduzzaman
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

The mother moved in like a tigress to save her cub. In 2015, when her 13-year-old daughter Shumi Akhter was about to be married off, Panna Begum pleaded with her husband, Dulal Mia, to cancel the marriage he’d arranged for their daughter.

Panna argued vehemently that Shumi was just a child and it was wrong for her to be married off at such a tender age. Dulal was adamant, countering that it was tradition and custom and his responsibility as a father to give his daughter away in marriage. He was furious with Panna for objecting, but she wouldn’t back down.

“I don’t agree with you because I know the reality, the legal age of girls’ marriage and consequences of child marriage. Please don’t try to kill the future of my daughter. If you proceed any further on this matter then I’m even ready to split from you to ensure my daughter’s future,” Panna warned her husband.

The Dulal family lives in Noler Char of Hatia UpaZilla, Noakhali, a southern coastal district of Bangladesh.

Panna never went to school and was herself a victim of child marriage. Fortunately, just a week before her daughter Shumi’s wedding, Panna participated in a sensitization meeting on women’s rights issues organized by Sagarika Samaj Unnayan Sangstha(SSUS), a local NGO. As soon as the meeting ended, she reached out for support from the participating NGO representatives and others to stop her daughter’s marriage. And she succeeded.

In the chars (accreted coastal land) of Noakhali district, where the Bangladesh government with the assistance of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Netherlands are implementing a project titled the Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP IV), the story of Panna’s efforts and success in averting a disastrous child marriage is well known and widely appreciated.

The CDSP IV aims to reduce poverty and hunger among poor people living on newly accreted coastal chars by providing more secure livelihoods.

Shumi Akhter runs her sewing machine. Credit: Shahiduzzaman/IPS


Sagarika Samaj Unnayan Sangstha (SSUS) is one of the four partner NGOs working with the CSDP IV to promote understanding of the social issues in the project areas. SSUS took responsibility to help the young Shumi learn skills that would eventually help her to earn money.

Within a couple of days following Panna’s appeal for help, the NGO admitted her into a CDSP IV month-long training on tailoring. She did well and she received a sewing machine free of cost. The training helped build her confidence. Within a short period Shumi became a popular tailor for the villages in the neighbourhood. Now she is earning between 50 and 70 dollars per month.

Her father Dulal Mia now says, “My decision was wrong. God saved us. I am sorry for causing such tension in my family. Like my wife, now I am also campaigning against child marriage.”

Today, at 16, Shumi is a major contributor to the family income. “I am dreaming of a better life. My parents and the villagers are with me. I will make my own decision about my future,” she stated confidently.

The other partners of CDSP IV are BRAC, Dwip Unnayan Songstha(DUS) and the Society for Development Initiatives (SDI).

Some 25 years ago, this correspondent visited the same char lands to report on the ‘Life of Char People’. At that time poor and marginal people who were victims of river erosion and natural disasters in various costal districts were trying to settle in this area. None of them aware of their basic rights, simply struggling for survival each day.

Those people were highly influenced in their outlook and were entrenched in taboos. Attitudes toward women and girl children were critically narrow. Over 95 percent of the girls were victims of child marriage. Women were strictly restricted in their movement outside their homes. They were bound by rules set by their husbands. In fact, the situation of women and girls was the worst in char areas compared to other parts of the country.

Then-local government officials and NGOs activists said low literacy rates and social insecurity of the families were the principal causes of the high rate of child marriage. Another important cause was that girls and young women in remote areas were vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse. To avoid incidents of abuse and rape and to ensure safety and security of their daughters, parents took the initiative to give away girls in marriage as early as possible.

Those days are now in the past. Md. Hanan Mollah of SSUS said, “All credit goes to CDSP IV. It has broken the barrier and women are more socially secure and empowered, and their rights on assets have been established. They are now the major mainstream workforce in the area. Their contribution makes our rural economy vibrant.”

Although child marriage has been reduced drastically, many families continue the practice by producing fake birth certificates.

In fact, Bangladesh has many successes in social sectors, but sadly it has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world. According to UNICEF, “52 percent of country’s girls are married before the age of 18. Early marriage causes girls to drop out of education and limits their opportunities for social interaction.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently reported that child marriage in Bangladesh is deeply destructive to the lives of married girls and their families; it pushes girls out of school, leaves them mired in poverty, heightens the risk of domestic violence, and carries grave health risks for girls and their babies due to early pregnancy.

Marriage of girls before the age of 18 and men before 21 is treated as child marriage, which is strictly prohibited by law in Bangladesh. It is a punishable offence for the organisers of child marriage including parents, registering entities and related persons.

“I can say confidently that child marriage in the area has reduced more than 90 percent after the CDSP IV project was launched. Often, when we receive information, our local officials including myself rush immediately to stop such marriages at any cost. A couple of months ago we intervened and stopped a child marriage when the couple were about to sign the marriage contract,” said Khondaka Rezauil Karim, Hatiya Upazila Nirbahi (sub-district Executive Officer).

“It is true some child marriages are still happening but within the next 12 months that will be stopped forever because by this time 100 percent birth registration will be completed, which is important for any marriage registrar to check the age of both male and female before registering the marriage.

“Several police camps and investigative centers and ground communication have been established in the areas to ensure peace and security. Now, police can rush within 30 minutes to any part of the chars to tackle the situation. Combating violence against women, promoting women’s empowerment and their rights based issues are our priority tasks,” Rezaul Karim said.

Deputy Team Leader of CDSPIV Md. Bazlul Karim said, “We have introduced multiple social programmes and support to stop child marriage effectively and promoting empowerment of women. ‘Legal and Human Rights’ programme is one of them, where an initiative has been taken to sensitize and raise awareness of the people by educating them on the country’s seven basic laws including Muslim and Hindu family laws, land law, inheritance law and constitutional rights. It also includes legal literacy classes, raising awareness about legal rights, and empowering the poor, especially women, both legally and socially by encouraging them to take legal action.”

“Around the project area, 984 groups are working on these issues. They are also acting like defenders on rights based issues. Now we are receiving complete information on the violation of rights and intolerance against women. And nothing is overlooked. So since the project started we were able to stop 93 child marriages,” he said.

The project is also providing life skill training and various kinds of support to young women, widows and destitute women. Tailoring training is one. So far the project has trained up 125 women and distributed 125 sewing machines free of cost. Each of the recipients are now earning a decent wage and helping their families. Credit is also being made available for small businesses, agro-based farming and livestock.

Achieving gender equality and empowerment of women are the most important goals of the project. Women’s position in their communities has improved remarkably. They are participating in all sorts of developing activities, including constructing roads, cultivating lands and agro-based farming.

The project officials and the NGO activists said that at the beginning it was very difficult to reach women. Their husbands were not cooperative at all, but with time they realized that empowering women only strengthened their own welfare.

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Lack of International Action on Rohingya Crisis Called a “Disgrace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 22:29:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152655 As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively. Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world. The UN warns that up to […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2017 (IPS)

As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively.

Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The UN warns that up to one million—representing the entire Muslim population of Rakhine state—could flee to the neighboring nation by the end of the year if the crisis continues.

Rohingya refugees have provided the outside world with glimpses of their horrific experiences, from villages being burned and attacked to women being raped by Burmese soldiers.

One 26-year-old Rohingya woman recounted her story to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) rapid response team, deployed to Bangladesh to assess the situation on the ground, stating:

“I woke up at 3 a.m. and my house was on fire. There was chaos, everyone was running everywhere, they were shooting to kill us, they took women and dragged them away to rape them. They did not spare anyone—even children were beaten and tortured…I have tried for a long time to live in peace, even during difficult times, but this attack was horrible.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the government’s campaign against the minority a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” while others have said that the violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Those that are able to reach Bangladesh often arrive to no food or shelter and are at risk of disease outbreaks as the resource-strained South Asian nation struggles to cope with the influx.

Despite the evidence for the scale of violence and suffering, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has largely remained silent on the crisis while divisions in Security Council (UNSC) have prevented decisive progress towards any measure.

With no end in sight, IPS spoke to the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures and the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Idriss Jazairy about the crisis in Myanmar, as well as his frustrations and appeals for action.

Q: What is your response to the crisis in Myanmar and what is the Geneva Centre doing to help end the crisis?

I have sent, to all members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a letter appealing to them to organize a special session on the desperate situation of the Rohingyas that have been pushed back from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

I have not received one single answer.

About 650,000 people have been pushed out mercilessly—all of their property has been burned or destroyed, many have disappeared in large numbers, women have been raped, children have been killed—and nothing happens.

I know in terms of politics there are all sorts of elements that need to be taken into account, but there comes a time when a situation of a violation of human rights exceeds certain proportion, whatever the politics, we should speak up.

Otherwise it shows that, in the UNHRC, politics have definitely taken precedence over values and this would be the beginning of the end of this Council.

It would be enough to have 16 states taking the initiative for a special session to take place.

Can’t we find, in the whole of the membership, a few others that claim they are sensitive to human rights to respond and take this initiative?

In 2007, the UNHRC held a special session on Myanmar because there were some peaceful demonstrations that had been exposed to violent responses by the military.

The situation today is 100 times worse, so I cannot imagine why there isn’t a similar reaction.

Q: Do the atrocities in Myanmar amount to crimes against humanity or even genocide?

I am not qualified to say but I believe that some more qualified than myself have talked at least about ethnic cleansing.

It is a case of ethnic cleansing but no one has responded to my appeal for a special session which would in fact have had a dual purpose—first, to impose, under UN control, a return of these people that have been brutally thrown out of a country in which they were born and lived for generations and secondly, to come to the help of Bangladesh which is one of the poorest countries that finds it difficult to face these financial consequences of the mass arrival of refugees.

We therefore have a double moral obligation.

The lives of all 650,000 people who have lost their homes—doesn’t that justify just a one-day special session when we have special sessions about every other country, every other crisis in the world?

I do not understand that. My multilateral faith in human rights is being undermined.

Q: If such a special session were to happen, what are you hoping would result from that?

A recognition of the right of the Rohingyas to go back to their land, including a recognition of their status of citizens.

I am aware that this [crisis] is the consequence to a great extent of British colonizers who would take some labor from what was then India and bring them over to Myanmar to work.

The source of the problem goes back centuries but you can’t redo history. These people have been there for generations, sometimes hundreds of years.

There must be a proper law that gives them the right to citizenship—citizenship should not be based on race.

Bangladesh should also be given compensation and people or victims themselves must be given compensation for what they have undergone.

It is true that there has been a group of violent protestors that have carried out some unacceptable violent actions like attacking police stations and we would not condone these actions.

But let us have a commission of inquiry that looks into all the issues and submit an official report, including to determine the nature of the crimes in this awful situation.

Q: If the crisis continues, should the international community take more drastic measures? Some are pushing for an arms embargo or targeted financial sanctions, what are your thoughts on that?

I have always been hesitant about sanctions.

Myanmar was exposed to sanctions and then the sanctions were removed. Neither did they improve their performance when the sanctions were on nor obviously since the sanctions have been removed and it has now become even worse.

So for me, this is not a question of just sanctions.

It is a grave issue—I understand the Secretary-General raised the issue four times in the Security Council (UNSC)—and I hope that the international community and UN system can join forces in addressing every aspect of this situation.

But the UNHRC not having a special session on this now is a disgrace.

Q: What is your response to the current divisions within the Security Council on the crisis as both Russia and China cite issues of sovereignty and ask to exercise “patience”?

This is why I say: I understand the politics behind these issues but I do feel that the situation has reached such a peak that there must be action.

The UNSC provides the politics, and the UNHRC provides the ethics. But where are the ethics now?

Idriss Jazairy is the former Algerian Ambassador and has long worked with the UN and other organizations.

Among other high-level positions, he has been the President of UN agency IFAD and the Chief Executive of a consortium of international organizations ACORD.

In 2015, Jazairy was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

A ministerial-level pledging conference is set to be held in Geneva on 23 October to help meet the most urgent needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

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An Inequality Beyond Wealth: Gaps in Women’s Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inequality-beyond-wealth-gaps-womens-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-beyond-wealth-gaps-womens-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inequality-beyond-wealth-gaps-womens-health/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:54:17 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152578 While many often focus on wealth disparities, economic inequality is often a symptom and cause of other inequalities including women’s access to sexual and reproductive health. In a new report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) explores the persistent, if not widening, inequalities in sexual and reproductive health around the world, holding back women and girls […]

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A mother and her child from West Point, a low-income neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia. The 10-worst countries to be a mother in are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 18 2017 (IPS)

While many often focus on wealth disparities, economic inequality is often a symptom and cause of other inequalities including women’s access to sexual and reproductive health.

In a new report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) explores the persistent, if not widening, inequalities in sexual and reproductive health around the world, holding back women and girls from a productive and prosperous future.

“It’s not just about money,” Editor of UNFPA’s report Richard Kollodge told IPS.

“Economic inequality reinforces sexual and reproductive health inequality and vice versa,” he continued.

Despite its recognition as a right, access to sexual and reproductive health is far from universally realized and it is the poorest, less educated, and rural women that continue to bear the brunt of such inequalities.

Globally, women and girls in the poorest 20 percent of households have little or no access to contraception and skilled birth attendants, leading to more unintended pregnancies and higher risk of illness or death from pregnancy or child birth.

In the developing world, 43 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and this is more prevalent among rural, poor, and less educated women.

These inequalities are particularly prevalent in West and Central Africa.

In Cameroon, Guinea, Niger, and Nigeria, use of skilled birth care is at less than 20 percent among the poorest women compared to at least 70 percent among the wealthiest.

The lack of power to choose whether, when or how often to become pregnant can limit
girls’ education, delay their entry into the paid labour force, and reduce earnings, trapping women in poverty and marginalization.

“The absence of these services in these women’s lives leads them to be poor or makes them even poorer,” said Kollodge.

A woman with no access to family planning may be unable to join the labor force because she has more children than intended.

In high-fertility developing countries, women’s participation in the labor force remains low, from 20 percent in South Asia to 22 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Once in the paid labor force, underlying gender inequalities lead to women earning less than men for the same types of work.

Though the gender wage gap has decreased in recent year, women still earn 77 percent of what men earn globally.

At the current pace, it will take more than 70 years before the gender wage gap is closed.

Further gaps can be seen for women who have children—a “motherhood penalty,” Kollodge said—as well as for women of color and those with less education.

Illiterate people earn up to 42 percent less than their literate counterparts and a majority of the world’s estimated 758 million illiterate adults are women.

This can also be traced to harmful gender norms that keep girls from school, and creates a vicious cycle that keeps women in the bottom rung of the economic ladder and without access to sexual and reproductive health services.

If all girls stayed in and received secondary education, it’s estimated that child marriages would decrease by 64 percent, early births by 59 percent, and births per woman by 42 percent.

Among the countries that have made most progress is Rwanda, which has effectively closed the gap between poor and rich households in access to contraception.

Kollodge told IPS that Rwanda’s achievement shows that a low-income country can advance access to sexual and reproductive health.

“The policies that [countries] adopt really make a difference. There are things you can do, regardless of your GDP, to improve well-being and reduce inequality in sexual and reproductive health and rights,” he said.

Rwanda’s success is partly due to the expanded availability and integration of family planning services in each of the country’s villages and health centers.

But inequality in sexual and reproductive health is not just a developing country issue, Kollodge noted.

The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American woman.

Meanwhile, the government is working to repeal health coverage which risks returning to a time where many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

Already, the Donald Trump administration has rolled back access to contraception, affecting up to 60 million women.

Elsewhere, the U.S.’ decision to cut funding to UNFPA is affecting the health and lives of thousands of women.

In 2016, the government provided 69 million to UNFPA programs, helping avert almost one million unintended pregnancies and prevent 2,300 maternal deaths.

“Any reduction to UNFPA has a direct impact on women and adolescent girls in developing countries,” said Kollodge.

The report calls to make information and services more available and accessible and recommends a number of actions including increasing access to child care which can help women join the labor force and climb out of poverty.

This will lead to not only better reproductive health outcomes, but also a healthier economy and society as a whole.

“If you eliminate these inequalities in accessing sexual and reproductive health and thus give women control over their own lives, you are going to make a lot of headway in economic inequality,” Kollodge told IPS.

He said that though eliminating inequalities in sexual and reproductive health alone will not be enough, countries will never achieve economic inequality if half of the world’s population lacks access to health services and rights.

“And if you continue to have extreme economic inequality, it drags down whole economies and prohibits countries from rising out of poverty fast enough to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Kollodge continued, pointing to SDG 1 which aims to end poverty by 2030.

The internationally adopted SDGs also include a goal to reduce inequality within and among countries by accelerating income growth of the poorest 40 percent of the population at a rate higher than the national average.

“If you don’t do that, you are never going to achieve shared prosperity,” Kollodge said.

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Up to 100 Million Girls Vulnerable to Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage/#comments Thu, 12 Oct 2017 21:59:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152452 Over 20,000 girls are married before the age of 18 every day around the world as countries continue to lack legal protections, according to a new study. Concerned over the lack of progress, Save the Children and the World Bank teamed up to research child marriage laws around the world and found a dismal picture. […]

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Searching for a Doctor at 3,000 Metres Highhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/searching-doctor-3000-metres-high/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=searching-doctor-3000-metres-high http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/searching-doctor-3000-metres-high/#respond Fri, 06 Oct 2017 12:15:17 +0000 Andrea Vale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152379 Good healthcare can be hard to get – particularly when one lives on top of a mountain. The road to Porcón in the Cajamarca region of Peru, therefore, is as breathtaking as it is sobering. With every step further into its isolated natural beauty, a group of volunteers sent to deliver healthcare essentials are reminded […]

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Celestina of Porcón Alto, a rural region high in the Andes, whose family has lived on the same plot of land for generations. Credit: Andrea Vale/IPS

Celestina of Porcón Alto, a rural region high in the Andes, whose family has lived on the same plot of land for generations. Credit: Andrea Vale/IPS

By Andrea Vale
PORCÓN, Peru, Oct 6 2017 (IPS)

Good healthcare can be hard to get – particularly when one lives on top of a mountain. The road to Porcón in the Cajamarca region of Peru, therefore, is as breathtaking as it is sobering. With every step further into its isolated natural beauty, a group of volunteers sent to deliver healthcare essentials are reminded how long the trek would be in an emergency.

After a bus has taken the volunteers as far as it can, to the rim of a sweeping valley dipping into the basin of a ring of mountains, they start their hike.“We have a lot of fear,” Celestina says. “The doctors are always telling us that they’re going to help us and heal us, but we can’t always get to them and they’re not able to get to us."

It’s not very long mile-wise, but they stumble over unforgiving drops in a rocky wind that leads them through tilted pastures resting on the sides of the mountains. The looming brown stillness is disrupted by their panting, at a loss of breath from the gasping altitude.

At the end lies a community of artisans who live in close proximity to one another in Porcón Alto, a rural region high in the Andes.

They’ve been waiting. Once the volunteers arrive, several women filter out into the pasture where they’ve set up shop and sit cross-legged around them, all accompanied by toddlers clutching at their long skirts and babies peeking out of the tops of the shawls slung over their backs to carry infants, or vegetables.

They have a flood of questions ready, about basic nutrition, exercise, disease prevention. They have a waiting list of ailments to look at – my child has this rash. My child can’t say his R’s. It hurts when I stand up from bed.

Immediately put to work, volunteers begin taking their blood pressure, weighing them, measuring their heart rates and their blood glucose levels. Under the shadow cast by one woman’s tall brimmed hat her skin is wrinkled in layers, leathery and toughened from years of work in the sun. She looks anywhere between 40 and 60, balancing a squirming toddler in her lap while she squints at the volunteer helping her with rapt attention and concern. But a glance at her chart reveals that she is only 22.

One woman sits in the center of the others, shucking corn with a baby tied to her back. Her eyes crinkle with smile lines and her elements-exposed skin is a mosaic of black freckles and brown creases. Her name is Celestina.

Porcón is home to her in a deep sense – her family has lived on this exact plot of land for generations.

“The house over there was taken down, but that’s where my grandmother and her mother lived,” she says in Spanish, gesturing out towards a rolling plot of land.

As to what life has been like, living high up here: “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes I get worried. My daughter is sick right now, so I’m sad right now,” Celestina says, touching her daughter’s face as the baby girl plays in her lap. Baby Analee, she says, was bit by an insect just this morning. Analee’s cheek is already massively swollen with a red welt.

Fearing for her daughter is a constant reality of existence for Celestina.

“When I’m sleeping I can forget, but otherwise there’s always that worry for my child,” she says. “She needs to go to school, she needs to work, and I’m always worried about her, to know that she’ll be okay.”

Despite how long her family has lived on this land, Celestina says without a hint of hesitation that she wishes Analee could grow up in an urban area, perhaps the city Cajamarca below.

“Of course I want to live out in the city, but we don’t have land. Where would we build a house? Here, being out in the country, we just cook, we clean, we try to bathe, and we wait. All we can do is wait for the proper transportation to get to Cajamarca to try to get the proper attention if someone is sick.”

She says that there are no home remedies that she or anyone in the community uses to try to treat illness. Their best defense is simply the best level of hygiene they can achieve, and oftentimes it isn’t enough.

According to the Pan American Health Organization, only 19.1% of the urban population in Peru make up the country’s total poverty – as compared to 54.2% of rural peoples. In regards to extreme poverty, the contrast is even starker – 2.5% of the urban population, and 23.3% of the rural.

Celestina is 38 years old. She has the health of a 60-year-old. Plagued with health struggles since childhood, she currently suffers from chronic eyesight and stomach trouble.

But she brushes this acknowledgement off and automatically returns her attention to her baby.

“My daughter is sick and I am worried,” she says. “Always, I am scared for her.”

Celestina may worry about emergency illness striking, but what her and the other community members don’t realize is that the real threat of living in such isolation is not one-time tragedies, but rather chronic health problems. Of the children screened in Porcón, one-fourth were underweight and one-fourth were either at risk of being overweight or actually overweight. Of the adults screened, 33% were obese and 42% were overweight.

Most of the people examined during the health screenings, both in Porcón and across Cajamarca, had hypertension and were overweight. An inordinate number had diabetes and were completely unaware of it, ignorant to what caused the disease. One woman’s blood glucose level was close to 230 – the volunteer who tested her was so shocked that she tested the level twice more, sure that that initial reading couldn’t be possible.

Uneducated on signs of cancer and prevention techniques, many have had parents and grandparents pass away from the disease and simply chalked it up to having ‘just died,’ without a known cause.

According to the World Health Organization, the current national Human Resources for Health Density in Peru – meaning doctors, nurses and midwives – is 17.8 per 10,000 population. That distribution, however, is extremely inequitable, with rural areas usually having an HRH density of below ten. Lima, for instance, has three times more physicians per population – 15.4 – than Huancavelica, one of the poorest cities in Peru and populated in majority by indigenous peoples. 89.1% of births in urban regions are assisted by a professional – while only 42.9% of births in rural areas are.

Consequently, it’s perhaps not surprising that child mortality rates in Peruvian rural areas are almost twice that of urban areas – 40% to 26%.  According to the Pan American Health Organization, 35.3% of adults in rural areas of Peru are overweight, and 16.5% are obese. Only 40% of them perform any “moderate physical activity” – all of the health screenings concluded with group exercise classes.

Without doctors nearby, without easy and reliable transportation to get to the closest doctors, and without health education, Celestina has to live in constant fear. There is fear for her neighbors and for herself – but above all, fear for her baby. There is fear that disease will strike, that accidents will happen, that unexplained illness will come. Because when it does, Celestina and the rest of the community are left alone on top of the Andes with only their best abilities as a defense – uneducated, unequipped and without adequate and reliable transportation.

“We have a lot of fear,” Celestina says, “The doctors are always telling us that they’re going to help us and heal us, but we can’t always get to them and they’re not able to get to us. They’re always promising that they’re going to help us, but it never happens because they’re so far.”

For now, all that Celestina and the rest of Porcón can do is wait.

“The only thing we can do is wait until we can go to the doctor,” she says, “To go to the doctor and then wait again. Sometimes there’s nobody.”

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Cholera in North-Eastern Nigeria: An Endemic Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/cholera-north-eastern-nigeria-endemic-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cholera-north-eastern-nigeria-endemic-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/cholera-north-eastern-nigeria-endemic-outbreak/#respond Wed, 06 Sep 2017 20:12:22 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151955 A recent cholera outbreak in North-Eastern Nigeria has resulted in at least 186 suspected cases and 14 deaths as of Sep. 1, according to Borno State’s Ministry of Health. The outbreak, which coincided with this year’s annual World Water Week, occurred in Muna Garage, a camp sheltering an estimated 44,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on […]

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Nurse treats cholera victims. Credit: IPS

By Lindah Mogeni
NEW YORK, Sep 6 2017 (IPS)

A recent cholera outbreak in North-Eastern Nigeria has resulted in at least 186 suspected cases and 14 deaths as of Sep. 1, according to Borno State’s Ministry of Health.

The outbreak, which coincided with this year’s annual World Water Week, occurred in Muna Garage, a camp sheltering an estimated 44,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A rapid response to the outbreak by Borno State’s Ministry of Health, along with WHO and other humanitarian partners, is underway.

The response includes, but is not limited to, establishing cholera treatment centers, distributing statewide diarrheal disease kits, increasing risk awareness and community outreach, initiating oral cholera vaccination campaigns in the camp’s affected areas and training health workers on cholera infection, prevention and control (IPC).

Cholera outbreaks are endemic in North-Eastern Nigeria. According to an overview in the Pan-African Medical Journal, such endemic outbreaks are prone to occur in conflict-affected areas where civil unrest has disrupted public sanitation services.

Borno State is one of Boko Haram’s strongholds.

Boko Haram terrorists have damaged or destroyed 75 percent of the water and sanitation infrastructure in North-Eastern Nigeria, leaving about 3.6 million people without the most basic water services, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Most Northern states in Nigeria rely on hand dug wells and contaminated ponds as sources of drinking water. A cholera outbreak occurs when untreated diarrhea from cholera patients gets into the water supplies, according to the Pan-African Medical Journal overview.

“When children have no safe water to drink, and when health systems are left in ruins, malnutrition and potentially fatal diseases like cholera will inevitably follow,” said UNICEF’s Global Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Sanjay Wijesekera, on Aug. 30.

The best preventive measures against cholera include basic hygiene and sanitation practices as well as access to clean water, according to WHO’s assessment. This ties in with the sixth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to “ensure water and sanitation for all” by 2030.

Steps towards achieving this goal involve ‘not just keeping up with cases’ but also implementing programs to ‘prevent further spread and early detection of cholera’, according to WHO.

Significantly, cholera outbreaks in North-Eastern Nigeria have occurred prior to the dawn of Boko Haram in 2002.

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Why Breastfeeding Is One of the “Smartest Investments” for All Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/breastfeeding-one-smartest-investments-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breastfeeding-one-smartest-investments-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/breastfeeding-one-smartest-investments-countries/#respond Tue, 08 Aug 2017 07:08:58 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151609 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released new findings on the economic gains—besides the obvious health benefits—of breastfeeding. Hailing the practice as an investment that ought to be supported by governments, the UN estimates that 4.70 dollars can push up rates of breastfeeding to 50 percent by 2025. Currently, only 23 countries can claim […]

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May 18, 2017. A combined group of South Sudanese refugees and Ugandans take part in a class about breast feeding. Nyumanzi Refugee Settlement, Adjumani District. Conflict and famine in South Sudan have led to an exodus of refugees into Uganda. Credit: JAMES OATWAY/UNICEF

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 8 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released new findings on the economic gains—besides the obvious health benefits—of breastfeeding.

Hailing the practice as an investment that ought to be supported by governments, the UN estimates that 4.70 dollars can push up rates of breastfeeding to 50 percent by 2025. Currently, only 23 countries can claim a rate above 60 percent. Overall, only 40 percent of children less than six months old are exclusively breastfed today.

In the world’s largest emerging economies—China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria—236,000 children die each year from a lack of investment in breastfeeding. Together, the countries lose more than 119 billion dollars annually.

A healthier workforce, nurtured from the very beginning of childhood, can add to a prosperous economy. Breastfeeding ensures ammunition against deadly diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are two major causes of death among infants. Similarly, it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer among mothers.

“We need to bring more understanding to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding—the baby should be fed with mother’s milk within the first hour of being born. Unfortunately, for many social and cultural reasons, this is not put to diligent practice. This is a sheer missed opportunity,” France Begin, a Senior Nutrition Adviser for Infant & Young Child Nutrition at UNICEF, told IPS.

The obvious benefits of breastfeeding, such as providing nutrition and bolstering development of the brain, are well known. Still, it is commonly mistaken as a woman’s job alone.

“Countries like Nepal and Kenya have done a wonderful job with policies to protect lactating mothers. In Kenya for example, all workplaces in the private sector have a room dedicated to mothers who have to breastfeed their children. In a way, this is our message too—you have to support women, and can’t simple leave it up to them,” said Begin. Indeed, providing lactation education classes and better paid maternity leave can go a long way.

Across all income levels, breastfeeding adds to an increase in intelligence, measured by a 3-point Intelligence Quotient (IQ) increase on average. Better academic performances, ensured by strong educational opportunities and programs, can lead to a better life for all members of the family.

“If you don’t make a strong commitment, it is a sheer drain to the child’s life, the families, and in the end, the economy,” resounded Begin.

This is why the report has deemed the practice as a “smart investment.” As the rate of breastfeeding remains stagnant in over two decades, it has become imperative to rally support and raise awareness. The UN has stepped up to do so by observing World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 until August 7.

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World Still Lagging on Indigenous Rights 10 Years After Historic Declaration, UN Experts Warnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/world-still-lagging-indigenous-rights-10-years-historic-declaration-un-experts-warn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-still-lagging-indigenous-rights-10-years-historic-declaration-un-experts-warn http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/world-still-lagging-indigenous-rights-10-years-historic-declaration-un-experts-warn/#respond Mon, 07 Aug 2017 14:43:55 +0000 Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151593 Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine is Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Albert K. Barume is chairman of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

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Women from Nepal's indigenous tribe. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Albert K. Barume and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
GENEVA / NEW YORK, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

The world’s indigenous peoples still face huge challenges a decade after the adoption of an historic declaration on their rights, a group of United Nations experts and specialist bodies has warned. Speaking ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, the group says States must put words into action to end discrimination, exclusion and lack of protection illustrated by the worsening murder rate of human rights defenders.

The joint statement from the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples reads as follows:

“It is now 10 years since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly, as the most comprehensive international human rights instrument for indigenous peoples. The Declaration, which took more than 20 years to negotiate, stands today as a beacon of progress, a framework for reconciliation and a benchmark of rights.

But a decade on, we need to acknowledge the vast challenges that remain. In too many cases, indigenous peoples are now facing even greater struggles and rights violations than they did 10 years ago.

Indigenous peoples still suffer from racism, discrimination, and unequal access to basic services including healthcare and education. Where statistical data is available, it shows clearly that they are left behind on all fronts, facing disproportionately higher levels of poverty, lower life expectancy and worse educational outcomes.

Indigenous peoples face particularly acute challenges due to loss of their lands and rights over resources, which are pillars of their livelihoods and cultural identities.

Indigenous women face double discrimination, both as women and as indigenous peoples. They are frequently excluded from decision-making processes and land rights, and many suffer violence.

We call on all States to ensure that indigenous women fully enjoy their rights as enshrined in the Declaration and emphasize that their rights are a concern for all of us.

The worsening human rights situation of indigenous peoples across the globe is illustrated by the extreme, harsh and risky working conditions of indigenous human rights defenders.

Individuals and communities who dare to defend indigenous rights find themselves labelled as obstacles to progress, anti-development forces, and in some cases, enemies of the State or terrorists.

They even risk death. Last year alone, some sources suggest that 281 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries – more than double the number who died in 2014. Half of them were working to defend land, indigenous and environmental rights.

We urge States to protect indigenous human rights defenders. Crimes committed against them must be duly investigated and prosecuted, and those responsible brought to justice.

Indigenous peoples are increasingly being drawn into conflicts over their lands, resources and rights. Lasting peace requires that States, with the support of the international community, establish conflict resolution mechanisms with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples’, in particular indigenous women.

Many States still do not recognize indigenous peoples, and in particular indigenous women and youth still face a lack of official recognition and direct political participation. Even in States where laws are in place, the Declaration has not been fully implemented.

It is high time to recognize and strengthen indigenous peoples’ own forms of governance and representation, in order to establish constructive dialogue and engagement with international and national authorities, public officials and the private sector.

The minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world, as set out in the Declaration, must now be met.

These include the rights to identity, language, health, education and self-determination, alongside the duty of States to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing measures that may affect them.

The Declaration represents important shifts in both structure and the practice of global politics, and the last 10 years have seen some positive changes in the situation of indigenous peoples and greater respect for indigenous worldviews.

But we still have a long way to go before indigenous peoples have full enjoyment of their human rights as expressed in the Declaration. We call on all States to close the gap between words and action, and to act now to deliver equality and full rights for all people from indigenous backgrounds.”

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Has Disability Risen among the Elderly?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/disability-risen-among-elderly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disability-risen-among-elderly http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/disability-risen-among-elderly/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 14:10:11 +0000 Veena Kulkarni Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151502 Veena S. Kulkarni is Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, Sociology, & Geography, Arkansas State University, US; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, US; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England.

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Disability is neither purely medical nor purely social. Rather, it is an outcome of their interplay.

By Veena S. Kulkarni, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (or RPD Act) is laudable in its intent and procedural detail, but mostly silent on disabilities among the elderly. Indeed, for this reason alone, it is arguable that its overarching goal—“The appropriate Government shall ensure that the persons with disabilities enjoy the right to equality, life with dignity and respect for his or her integrity equally with others” —is mere rhetoric, if not a pipe dream.

Disability is part of human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning. Disability is neither purely medical nor purely social. Rather, it is an outcome of their interplay. Chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer) are associated with impairments that get aggravated by stigma, discrimination in access to educational and medical services, and job market. Higher disability rates among older people reflect an accumulation of health risks across a lifespan of disease, injury, and chronic illness (WHO and World Bank, 2011). The co-occurrence of NCDs and disabilities among them poses considerably higher risk of mortality, relative to those not suffering from either or one.

Raghav Gaiha

There is a bidirectional link between disability and poverty: disability may increase the risk of poverty, and poverty may increase the risk of disability. Households with a disabled member are more likely to experience material hardship—including food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and inadequate access to healthcare. Poverty may increase the likelihood that a person with an existing health condition becomes disabled, for example, by an inaccessible environment or lack of access to appropriate health and rehabilitation services.

There is a bidirectional link between disability and poverty: disability may increase the risk of poverty, and poverty may increase the risk of disability. Households with a disabled member are more likely to experience material hardship.

Detailed evidence on disabilities and their correlates is particularly relevant as India’s elderly population (60 years or more) is growing three times faster than the population as a whole. Three demographic processes are at work: declining fertility rates, increasing longevity and large cohorts advancing to old age (Bloom et al. 2014). As both non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and disabilities tend to rise with age, often in tandem, the inadequacies of the present health systems, community networks and family support may magnify to render these support systems largely ineffective. If the costs in terms of productivity losses are added, the total cost burden of looking after the disabled elderly may be enormously higher in the near future.

Disability is usually measured by a set of items on self-reported limitations with severity of disability ranked by the number of positively answered items. Disabilities in activities of daily living (ADL) show dependence of an individual on others, with need for assistance in daily life. The activities of feeding, dressing, bathing or showering, walking 1 km, hearing, transferring from bed and chair, normal vision, and continence are central to self-care and are called basic ADLs.

A review of the evidence from the India Human Development Survey 2015 (IHDS) that tracks the same sample of individuals over the period 2005-2012, yields useful insights from a policy perspective. IHDS covers seven disabilities already defined.

At an all-India level, there was a very rapid rise in the prevalence of all disabilities among the elderly during 2005-2012, from 8.4% to over 36%.

The prevalence was much higher among the older elderly (i.e. >70 years) than among 60-70 years old. Besides, it shot up to over 50% among the former in 2012 as compared with 33% among the latter. So the more rapid the ageing of India’s population, the higher will be the prevalence of disabilities.

The disability prevalence was slightly higher among elderly females, but became considerably higher in 2012. From about 9.4% in 2005, it rose to nearly 40% in 2012. Thus lower survival prospects for elderly women are likely to reflect greater disability.

There was a reversal in the rural-urban disabilities, with a slightly larger prevalence in urban areas, but both rose substantially with a larger prevalence in rural areas (about 37% as compared with 35%). If we use caste as a predictor of socio-economic deprivation, we find that disabilities rose much faster among the SCs than in the General category, with the prevalence among the former rising from 6.9% to about 37%. Besides, each category (including OBCs, and STs) witnessed a sharp rise in disabilities.

There are two ways of examining the link between poverty and disabilities: one is to assess whether the prevalence of disability is higher among the poor, using the official poverty line, and another is to rely on a ranking based on assets. We prefer the latter, since income fluctuates more than assets. Distinguishing between the least wealthy (or the first wealth quartile) and the most wealthy (the fourth quartile), we find that while the prevalence of disabilities was about the same in both (about 9.7%), it rose at a much faster rate among the least wealthy, resulting in the highest prevalence (39.5%) in 2012. As there is a strong association between NCDs and disabilities (e.g. between diabetes and restricted mobility and vision impairment, heart disease and limited mobility, stroke and speech and mobility impairment), some of the risk factors associated with the former are also linked to the latter. These include smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary transition to consumption of energy-dense foods—high in salts, fats and sugars—and sedentary lifestyles. As the population ages, and the burden of NCDs rises, disabilities are likely to be far more pervasive. Compounded by lack of access to disability-related services (e.g. assistive devices such as wheelchair, hearing aid, specialised medical services, rehabilitation), and persistence of negative imagery and language, stereotypes, and stigma—with deep historic roots-leading to discrimination in education and employment—the temptation to offer simplistic but largely medical solutions must be resisted. In brief, a multidimensional strategy is needed that includes prevention of disabling barriers as well as prevention and treatment of underlying health conditions.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Guardian.

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Last Mile Connectivity to Bangladesh’s Impoverished Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/last-mile-connectivity-bangladeshs-impoverished-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=last-mile-connectivity-bangladeshs-impoverished-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/last-mile-connectivity-bangladeshs-impoverished-north/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 06:06:38 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151500 Life for Bangladesh’s rural people, particularly in its remote north, is still miserable. Seasonal flooding, river erosion, and the low quality of rural infrastructure and lack of connectivity have made things harder for poor northerners. Though the country has been elevated to the lower middle-income country club due to its overall income rise, largely because […]

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The Dharala River of Kurigram District. It is the poorest district of the country with 67.3 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/3.0

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

Life for Bangladesh’s rural people, particularly in its remote north, is still miserable. Seasonal flooding, river erosion, and the low quality of rural infrastructure and lack of connectivity have made things harder for poor northerners.

Though the country has been elevated to the lower middle-income country club due to its overall income rise, largely because of growing remittance inflows, poverty is still widespread in rural areas.

The situation worsens when there is a natural disaster like cyclone, flooding, or landslides. Since April, Bangladesh has suffered flash floods, with millions of farmers losing their standing crops and fish in its haor (wetland ecosystem) region. Then came the monsoon floods with an even greater onslaught, leaving millions of people either marooned or displaced.

As the floodwater receded, people started falling ill with fever, malaria and pneumonia. It is a life of uncertainty and unpredictability.

According to an article carried by leading Bengali newspaper, Prothom Alo, in its July 18 issue, 57,000 families were affected by the April flash flood in the country’s Sunamganj district alone.

Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya told journalists on July 12 that around 650,000 people in the country’s 13 districts, mostly the northern ones, have become victims of the seasonal flooding. The districts are Sirajganj, Bogra, Rangpur, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat, Jamalpur,Tangail, Faridpur Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s northern region is an impoverished one by all accounts, and the blame for this largely goes to climate change. Yet things are expected to change thanks to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s PROVATi³ project, which stands for “promoting resilience of vulnerable through access to infrastructure, improved skills and information”.

As in other parts of Bangladesh, IFAD through its implementing partner, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of the Bangladesh government, provides the ‘last mile connectivity’ to stimulate growth and commercialisation through market access, and increases resilience by diversifying incomes, and improving design and maintenance of infrastructure.

Bangladesh has eight administrative zones. Rangpur division, the main project site, is the poorest. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) quarterly data (April-June 2016) shows nationally 23.2 per cent and 12.9 per cent of the population live below the upper and extreme poverty lines, respectively. Rangpur division, Kurigram district, the main project district with nine sub-districts, is the poorest district of the country with 67.3 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

By other indicators such as the agricultural labour rate and education level of heads of families, which have a strong correlation with poverty, the whole Rangpur region, and Kurigram and Gaibandha districts in particular, are among the worst performers.

With a total budget of 94 million dollars, the project has a strong rural infrastructure focus, investing about 74 million dollars (80 percent of the project cost) in climate proven rural infrastructure (markets, roads and shelters).

The project also promotes capacity building and vocational training to diversify rural incomes (off-farm employment and entrepreneurship) thereby increasing resilience to shocks.

More importantly, it contributes significantly to increased disaster and flood preparedness through improved information quality and accessibility.

The project will be implemented in six districts –Gaibandha, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, and Jamalpur –with the main focus in the worst poverty-stricken districts – Jamalpur, Kurigram and Gaibandha.

The major parts of these districts are flood-prone because of the convergences of the Brahmaputra (Jamuna River) and Teesta rivers. Within the six districts, the project will implement development activities in 25 poorer and vulnerable upazilas (sub-districts).

The project infrastructure will be primarily built in 90 unions (councils), which are mostly char (shoal) and low-lying, and the worst poverty-stricken areas within the 25 upazilas (Sub-districts).

For local flood forecasting, 19 upazilas (174 councils) of Kurigram, Gaibandha and Jamalpur districts have been chosen as they are affected by monsoon floods of the Brahmaputra River.

Asked how the project idea was generated and what were the striking elements that IFAD agreed to support the programme, Philipp Baumgartner, an agricultural economist and Programme Officer (Asia and Pacific Region) at the Programme Management Department, told IPS that the area was selected given the high incidence of poverty and vulnerability of people.

“Recurring floods and riverbank erosions are among the main causes of poverty in the area,” he said.

Philipp said the PROVATi³ project would run for six years and aims to reach over 300,000 households, or an equivalent of 1.5 million people.

With its own loan of 63.5 million dollars, Philipp said it would be the biggest IFAD project so far implemented in Bangladesh, while other projects partnering with the World Bank and Asia Development Bank have been beyond 100 million.

A quick analysis of the project papers shows a deep commitment of the government of Bangladesh and IFAD to reduce extreme poverty, as the project areas are some of the poorest and most vulnerable districts in the country.

Bangladesh is a country of 160 million people with the highest population density (more than 1,000 per square kilometre) in the world, excluding a few city states. It is striving hard to come out of mass poverty through strong economic growth.

The average GDP growth over the last two decades ranged between 5 and 6.5 percent and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 6.5 per cent. But growth has been uneven among regions as well as population groups. The economy depends on agriculture, which is about 16 per cent of total GDP but employs more than 50 per cent of workforce.

Over the last three decades, the country has achieved remarkable improvements in social indicators such as primary education and health care, girls’ education, access to safe water and sanitation, reduction in child mortality, higher of life expectancy. Still, there are discrepancies.

This project, Phillip said, seeks to help the country go further within the framework of Agenda 2030 or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it did in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to graduate out of poverty, permanently and with gender parity.

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“The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-now-invest-youth-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-now-invest-youth-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-now-invest-youth-girls/#respond Fri, 28 Jul 2017 05:52:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151466 The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean? There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind. In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent […]

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The demographic dividend - “The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls

Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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

The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean?

There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind.

In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent of its population is currently under 25 years old and this figure is only expected to rise.

With this change in demographics comes more working-age individuals and thus the potential to advance economic growth and sustainable development, known as the demographic dividend.

However, this will not happen on its own.

Investments are required in areas such as education and sexual and reproductive healthcare in order to provide youth with opportunities to prosper, major components of the globally adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) new acting executive director Natalia Kanem, who assumed her new role after the unexpected death of former executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, sat down with IPS to discuss the issues, challenges, and goals towards achieving the demographic dividend and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Q: What is the demographic dividend and why is it so important?

A: The demographic dividend is the economic boost that happens in a country when you have more people in productive working ages employed and contributing to the economy compared to the categories of young people or elderly who are dependents in economic terms.

For many of the countries which dwell in poverty today, we are seeing this transition that was predicted to happen.

Through the success in healthcare and sanitation, society has been able to increase life expectancy—people are getting older so we are getting lower death rates.

At the same time, we are getting lower birth rates, which are happening in some of these countries, and that means the working-age population is going to have fewer mouths to feed, fewer shoes to put on the school-aged child’s feet.

Many things have to also happen at the same time—it’s not just simply lowering the birth rate.

You have to equip people to be able to be productive members of a society, and this means education is very important. Adolescent girls in particular should be equipped to reach their potential by providing education of certain types of skills or training.

All of this is going to add up to much more societal progress, potential of young people fulfilled, and human rights being enjoyed.

Q: Where does this fit in and how does it inform UNFPA’s work under your leadership? Does it signal a paradigm shift?

A: We do feel that it is a paradigm shift, and what we are doing at UNFPA is making it accessible so that governments understand its relevance.

The mandate of UNFPA is to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and we feel that a woman’s choice is at the center of all of this.

Right now, as girls get married young and are having coerced sexual activity young, they are really not able to decide for themselves about how many children they want, when they want to have them, and how they would like to space them.

By giving women the choice to exercise their reproductive wishes and educating them—all of these things are going to ignite the potential of young people.

These people have potential, they want to work, they want to be educated, they want to contribute—so let’s make it easier for them, let’s not hide sexual and reproductive health information.

Not every method is going to work for every person, so we really look at human rights across the spectrum of choice.

We also have a lot of experts who have been very strategic in thinking through what really makes a difference, and we can say emphatically that investment in sexual and reproductive health way outweighs the costs—you at least double your money, and if you do the whole package, you can actually get 122 times the investment.

There is nothing on the planet that gives you that kind of payback.

Q: Why isn’t it enough to just equip youth with skills and jobs?

A: The young person exists in a societal environment like we all do, and girls tend to get left out of that picture.

In the past, when we were thinking of farmers, we didn’t realize that more than half of the farmers were women. So we were giving all of the agricultural resources to the wrong people.

And here we are saying the adolescent girl is half of the world and she also needs to be deliberately included.

The cards will be stacked against her if we don’t protect her so she doesn’t fall into the trap of sexual and reproductive dis-ease—so she’s pregnant before she wants to be, she is having her kids too close together, she is physically exhausted, and if she doesn’t finish her education, all of these things work together.

So that’s why we keep harping on this balance of all of these different elements.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent in the 50 odd years when they were investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

South Korea’s population pyramid went from looking like a triangle, where there wasn’t enough working age people to take care of those at the bottom, to where there were fewer children per family and greater ability to invest more into nutrition and education and all of the things families want for their children.

And it’s not just fewer families alone, because if you have fewer families but she doesn’t have an education, then it won’t work. You need the packaged deal.

We are ultimately talking about a social revolution which sees young people as an asset to their family, community, and country.

Q: How accepted is the correlation between growth and issues that may not be so obvious such as sexual and reproductive health or child marriage? Has there been pushback on that?

A: First of all, there was lack of recognition. It seems like the dots are very far apart until you paint the picture, but we have been explaining that better.

The regional report card atlas which we just launched earlier this month for the African Union Summit is very telling. We looked at those same parameters for every single African country, one of which was early marriage, and it varies so much.

In some countries, it can be up to 70 percent of girls getting married before the age of 17. In Rwanda it’s under 10 percent, and they have very good family planning which they’ve been working on for a while.

Uganda is a very good example of how pushback was transformed.

President Museveni came in as a strong proponent of big families and said that they need a big population in order to have more workers. But after a lot of discussion, he saw that Uganda already has a big population but it wasn’t enough.

So later, the President started advocating strongly for voluntary family planning services and services like midwives because again, the woman has to be sure that when she does get pregnant she and her baby are going to survive.

Uganda has now transformed its economy and is starting to see that demographic dividend boost.

Q: Where do the resources come from for countries to invest in youth?

A: Many countries are looking to invest their own resources in this proposition because the return on investment argument is highly persuasive.

We have also garnered the interest of development banks. The World Bank is working very closely with UNFPA on the Sahelian Women’s Economic Development and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) program. It’s only been active for a little while now but it is wildly successful because it looks at rural women in countries of the Sahel.

There is also a huge role for the private sector.

Government is very important because of policies and setting the tone and norms and laying down the expectations.

But the reality is that the private sector employs 90 percent of people in the developing world.

This coupling of the public government side and the private investment side is very crucial to ensure rights, freedoms, services, and accurate information—all of that together is needed for development and for this bonus that we call the demographic dividend.

Q: How are the recent funding cuts by the United States affecting UNFPA’s work? Is it hindering progress on the demographic dividend and/or the sustainable development goals?

A: First of all, I would like to say that UNFPA is moving forward.

We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls.

We are very focused on these three goals in our work with governments, civil society, private sector, and other actors in over 150 countries to honor the legacy of our late boss as well as those who preceded him.

There are still 214 million women who want family planning and don’t have modern contraception.

We have a funding gap that stands at about 700 million dollars from now to 2020, and we have been looking for additional funding because we need to reach more and more women and girls without cutting the programs we already have.

The United States’ defunding was such a disappointment in terms of our good standing in the world and our regret that the decision was based on an erroneous claim.

Ultimately, I think our regret on the decision is certainly monetary because we were using that money very effectively in humanitarian core operations.

But we also regret it because of the stature of the U.S. in the fight to make sure that there is gender equality as well as reproductive health and rights.

We are really looking forward to continuing a dialogue and hopefully keeping an open door because the U.S. and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been very good partners with UNFPA.

The time is now for young women to be protected from it being their fault that they got raped, for them feeling shame when they have been assaulted.

Let’s turn that around so that men and boys, women and girls live peacefully with the resources they want and need to survive and thrive.

No one of us can do it alone and I think that UNFPA is a good partner, and that we deserve to be supported.

*Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Yemen Records 400,000 Cholera Caseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/yemen-records-400000-cholera-cases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemen-records-400000-cholera-cases http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/yemen-records-400000-cholera-cases/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 06:37:59 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151450 The directors of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) released a joint statement today shedding light on a deadly cholera epidemic engulfing war-torn Yemen. More than 400,000 cases of cholera are suspected, and nearly 1,900 people have died from associated cases in the last three months alone. […]

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More than 400,000 cases of cholera are suspected in Yemen, and nearly 1,900 people have died from associated cases in the last three months alone.

Tents set up at Alsabeen hospital in Sana'a Yemen for screening suspected cholera cases.

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The directors of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) released a joint statement today shedding light on a deadly cholera epidemic engulfing war-torn Yemen.

More than 400,000 cases of cholera are suspected, and nearly 1,900 people have died from associated cases in the last three months alone.

The dire situation results from a culmination of factors, such as modern tactics of warfare that destroy water pipelines, as well as continuous bombing of schools and hospitals. More than 60 percent of the population remains uncertain of their next meal as famine looms.

Nearly 2 million children are suffering from malnutrition, and are easy targets of the water-borne disease. The report estimates that nearly 80 percent of all children need immediate humanitarian assistance.

Amid the lack of adequate international support, community leaders have stepped up to the task—more than 16,000 volunteers visit families from door-to-door to raise awareness about cholera, and assist them with information to protect themselves.

Many health-care workers, as many as 30,000, haven’t been paid in nearly 10 months. Still, that doesn’t keep them from their work.

Similarly, international organisations like UNICEF and WHO have set up nearly 1,000 diarrhoea treatment centers to provide key supplies, like food and medicine. They are also similarly assisting, with the help of the community, to rebuild the local infrastructure.

There is hope, and more than 99 percent who are now showing cholera-related symptoms have a good chance of surviving.

The two-year deadly conflict in Yemen between the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) and Houthi rebels in one of the most poorest Arab countries has produced devastating results—one report in 2016, which was quickly withdrawn, estimated that nearly 60% of children died from attacks by the SLC.

The UN agency leaders, Anthony Lake (UNICEF), David Beasley (WFP) and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (WHO) urged the international community to “redouble its support for the people of Yemen,” following a trip to the country themselves.

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

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Credit: IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It includes 144 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stella Paul
LONDON, Jul 17 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

Digitizing SRHR

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cellphones for Better Information

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

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

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

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

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

Investing in Data

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

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

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

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

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

Youth-Friendly Technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female condoms – a mirage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthcare for the Transgender

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

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

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

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

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

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

FP2020, Commitments and Gaps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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