Inter Press Service » Women’s Health News and Views from the Global South Mon, 30 May 2016 18:14:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Menstrual Hygiene Gaps Continue to Keep Girls from School Fri, 27 May 2016 21:16:02 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 UNFPA Funding Cuts Threaten Women’s Health in Poorer Nations Thu, 26 May 2016 18:22:31 +0000 Thalif Deen 1 County Governments in Kenya Must Take Lead in Fight for Gender Equality Sun, 22 May 2016 13:32:26 +0000 Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee Ms Tarja Fernandez, @fernandeztarja, is the Ambassador of Finland to Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1, is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

By Ambassador Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 22 2016 (IPS)

The 3rd Devolution Conference that took place in Meru, Kenya between 19 and 21st April was an opportunity to discuss how the post-2015 development agenda will be localized and how county governments will deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said that devolution is vital in helping the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And this is beautifully aligned to Kenya’s own Vision 2030, which is to create a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya with a high quality of life by 2030.

Devolution is all about inclusion and participation. Devolution is therefore also an opportunity to champion gender equality.

So the SDG goal number 5, is about, “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” is one of the key drivers of sustainable development. Half of the population should not be left behind. Inclusion of women and girls must be at the core of the development plans will accelerate potential for economic growth and well-being of the societies at large.

In order to address gender and other inequalities county governments need to know about them.

As was evident with the Millennium Development Goals, data derived from national surveys tend to miss the marginal numbers and thus downplay serious regional disparities, as the averages used in reporting progress mask the suffering of many.

For instance, while national data indicates that Kenya’s total fertility rate is 3.9, parts of the country have a total fertility rate of up to 7.8. This represents women who have limited decision making power about when or if they should have children, for reasons ranging from lack of family planning information and services to religious and cultural practices.

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS, 2014) indicates that the national prevalence of female genital mutilation is 21%. However, among the communities where the practice is still intractable, the rates go up to 98%.

Clearly, there are populations whose concerns are going unheeded.

It is the voices of such populations that county governments have an opportunity to amplify as they seek to find relevance for the SDGs.

How can this be done? By providing opportunities for women of all ages to participate in county planning and budgeting processes. Being aware of their rights and listening to their needs. Building county governments’ capacities to analyze gender issues and address them in the County Integrated Development Plans. Sensitizing men on the benefits of providing more space for women to participate decision making, both at home and in public spheres of life. Moreover, including men consistently in discussions related to gender equality.

For gender responsiveness to be met, the equity principle must underlie the identification of priorities, planning, budgeting and service delivery. Collecting county disaggregated data will be a key to identification of development needs, and culturally acceptable solutions. In addition, community participation will be crucial to ensuring that the voices of women and girls, the youth and the marginalized, will no-longer be left unheard.

Counties now have the opportunity to identify their own priorities and to design service delivery mechanisms suitable for local needs. Each county in Kenya has its own unique challenges and circumstances, but also the resources to solve its problems. Respecting and utilizing valuable local traditions that do not violate human rights can be a rich resource from which development plans can draw knowledge, legitimacy and participation.

Though recent surveys such as the DHS 2014 have quality data from the regions, the counties themselves need a lot of support to generate, access and utilize disaggregated data with measurable indicators. As observed recently by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, tackling inequalities and measuring progress towards sustainable development is constrained by a lack of core population data and under-developed capacity to use such data for development.

Changing entrenched gender inequalities is, however, not an easy task. There are deep social, economic and cultural forces that drive stereotyping and discrimination and these will not disappear without deliberate actions.

These actions by all counties are a key approach to nationalizing the SDGs, reducing inequalities, especially gender inequality, while unlocking the potential that women have for delivering sustainable change.

At the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14th-24th March 2016, President Kenyatta was among the 80 leaders that made commitments to advance gender equality and ensure equal opportunity. He said, “I’m convinced that our nations and the world stand to gain tremendously if we continue to embrace that progress for women is progress for us all. Investing in women is more than a matter of rights; it is the right thing to do.”

As development partners in Kenya we are committed to work with Government of Kenya and the county authorities to advance gender equality and empowerment.

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Best Strategies to Empower Girls Thu, 19 May 2016 10:30:04 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg2 By Dr. Bjorn Lomborg
May 19 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls worldwide will become child brides – defined by the United Nations as marriage before age 18. The effects from such early marriage can be devastating and long-lasting for women: lower education levels and lower lifetime earnings, higher rates of domestic violence, greater risk of dying from pregnancy complications, and increased mortality rates for the children of these young brides.



Even though Bangladesh’s legal age of marriage is 18, the country has the second-highest rate of child marriage globally: the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey shows that nearly three quarters of women aged 20-49 married before turning 18. Many of these girls’ families offer them for early marriage to avoid paying higher dowries.

What are the best strategies to empower young women and avoid the harms of early marriage?

A new analysis by economists from Duke University, and MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab examines various strategies to prevent child marriages. It finds that providing financial incentives to delay marriage is most effective.

Child marriage disproportionately affects poor households: girls in the poorest 20 percent worldwide are more than twice as likely to marry early than those in the wealthiest 20 percent. Bangladesh has one of the largest populations vulnerable to early marriage, with more than 15 million girls aged 10-19.

Families often see early marriage as a financial necessity, which may help explain why numerous laws that prohibit early marriage and dowrieshave had virtually no effect in Bangladesh. Similarly, programmes run by community groups that give adolescent girls life-skills and vocational training have had no impact in Bangladesh (nor in Tanzania, but some impact in Uganda). So focusing on laws or empowerment will likely do less than 1 taka of good for each taka spent.

The analysis examines other proposals from Bangladesh, across South Asia, and in sub-Saharan Africa. The most promising is a programme from southern Bangladesh run by Save the Children that uses a conditional stipend to encourage parents to delay marriage for adolescent daughters.

From 2008-2010, the programme gave cooking oil to parents of unmarried girls aged 15-17. Every four months, participants received four liters of oil – conditional upon a monitor confirming that they were still unmarried. A year’s supply of cooking oil costs Tk. 1,250 per girl and aims to offset the economic burden of delaying marriage.

The modest financial incentive had significant effects. Recipient girls were up to 30 percent less likely to marry before age 16, and they were up to 22 percent more likely to remain in school. Each taka of spending on such conditional transfer programmes does about 4 takas of social good.

Raising the age of marriage would do a lot of good, but early marriage is far from the only challenge Bangladeshi girls and women face. New research by Ahsan Zaman, an assistant economics professor at North South University, examines two other pressing gender issues: access to education and family planning.

Educational access for girls is important, because more education means higher productivity and earnings over their own working lives. But it also turns out to be crucial for the eventual health of their children. A higher level of education improves a mother’s health awareness. Research shows that this leads to better nutrition status for her children – and malnutrition is one of the factors that influences child disease and mortality the most. Each taka spent to get girls more education does 3 takas of social good, thanks to improved child health and increased income from higher earnings.

A second issue is family planning, which can save lives of mothers and children by widening the time gap between births, improve health for both, and empower women by allowing them to stay in school longer. A year of family planning services that delays pregnancy costs just 655 takas and can add nearly half a year of extra schooling for one girl. And in Bangladesh, an additional year of school boosts girls’ lifetime earnings by an estimated 13.2 percent. When combining the health and education benefits, the small investment in family planning gives 3 takas of benefits for each taka spent.

Smart policies can help delay female marriage and promote gender equality. Where would you want to spend resources to do the most good for Bangladesh? Let us hear from you at We want to continue the conversation about how to do the most good for every taka spent.

The writer is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit. He was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Breastfeeding Saves Lives But Can’t Compete With Agressive Marketing Wed, 11 May 2016 20:08:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Religious Leaders Can End Harmful Cultural Practices & Advance Women’s Empowerment Thu, 05 May 2016 15:51:44 +0000 Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee Dr Seth Berkley, @Gaviseth is an epidemiologist and the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Siddharth Chatterjee, @sidchat1 is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

By Dr Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 2016 (IPS)

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of individual conscience in deciding whether to use contraceptives in view of the spread of the Zika virus, it was not just a landmark moment but it underscored the need for faith leaders to get involved more closely in contemporary health challenges.

In Northern Nigeria, a former global epicenter of polio transmission, Islamic clerics, who were once opposed to immunization, turned into advocates for vaccination. As a result Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, has for the first time been polio-free for 18 months, a development that brings us significantly closer to eradicating this terrible disease.

A profound realization has lately emerged among health professionals about how well-equipped health systems alone cannot solve today’s public health challenges. Stemming from various highly complex causes, these problems can never be solved by a single approach, but by an array of stakeholders working at a number of long-term solutions.

Today’s health problems trigger a host of family, economic and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities. More than ever before, there is a need for a knitting together of multiple partners, to choreograph what are often distrusting stakeholders to deliver cohesive responses to the challenges.

Religious leaders, so often driven by a profound and fundamental sense of mission, can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems.

Nowhere is their passion for seeking the common good more needed than in the drive for empowerment of girls and women, the group that is invariably most affected by lack of access to health services, and whose wholesome health is so central to survival of entire families.

In Kenya, as in many African societies, access to health by women is largely determined by cultures and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. Unfortunately, these traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning the women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.

Passion and compassion for those who suffer are key pillars of most faiths, and this is why leaders of religion are well-placed to accelerate the quest for gender equality and empowerment. Giving girls and women the wherewithal to play their full part in a country’s development is not just a moral imperative, but the only sustainable approach.

The first step is educating them and giving them the freedom to determine when to marry and how many children to have. A juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases has for eons given men absolute control over women’s bodies. Female genital mutilation and early marriage are just two examples; evil manifestations of a society determined to control women.

The consequences do not just affect women, but entire nations. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates are too high for families to save or invest for the future.

In Kenya according to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in some regions, women such as North Eastern Kenya, total fertility rate is 7.5. National averages of such indicators often substantially mask the disparities between socio-demographic groups and regions within the country.

The high birth rates are invariably in areas where religious teachings take a key role in every day decisions. There is therefore the opportunity to underline faith values such as matching family size with economic resources.

It is in such hard-to-reach areas in Kenya that the Ministry of Health and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with its partners are working with religious leaders to bring positivity and hope into the lives of communities, to put them in good stead to play a full role in development.

The faith leaders are being engaged in dispelling misconceptions about the religious basis for harmful practices, and re-emphasizing messages about the dignity of women.

Another important area is cervical cancer, which currently claims the lives of 266,000 women every year, nearly as many as childbirth, with the vast majority in developing countries. Pre-adolescent girls can be protected for a lifetime from the main causes of this terrible disease through the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which Gavi is now helping to make available in some of the world’s poorest countries, often through vaccination activities in schools.

However, given that school attendance can sometimes be low for girls in many poor communities we need to find ways to reach these girls. Religious leaders can help, by raising awareness about the benefits of the HPV vaccine as well as the importance of educating girls.

All these messages will result in girls staying longer in school, in abandonment of FGM and early marriage, in fewer women being struck down by cancer and in uptake of healthy choices such as child spacing.

These are the messages that will enable all of Africa to harness the demographic dividend as decreases in fertility combine with socio economic policies that enable investments for the youth and ensure less dependent populations.

Religious organizations have not only been moral pillars in the community, but they have also led in providing access to education and health for the marginalized. Now is the time for them to lead the drive towards demolishing harmful, man-made traditions and cultures.

This article was published first by Reuters

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Indian Women Worst Hit by Water Crisis Tue, 03 May 2016 10:30:48 +0000 Neeta Lal 0 A long, Insulting Walk to Justice for Rape Victims in Bangladesh Fri, 29 Apr 2016 12:32:39 +0000 Tamanna Khan Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits ]]>

Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits

By Tamanna Khan
Apr 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The dead do not feel anything, but those who survive do. The horrendous experience of the insensitive two-finger test after rape. The courtroom insults during trial because a draconian law permits the accused to question the victim’s character. The families suffer no less humiliation as they wait for justice. While nations around the world have overhauled relevant laws with provisions that shield the rape victims, ours still favour the offender instead. Isn’t it time we were a little more sensitive towards the victims of a crime now regarded as a crime against society? In the wake of Tonu murder after suspected rape, The Daily Star tries to shed some light on all these aspects.
Today, the first two instalments of a three-part series.

rape_4__Her dark-circled, deep-set eyes gave her a hollow look. The eyes were full of fear and mistrust.

The girl gave sideways glances as she hesitantly walked into the office of the One-stop-Crisis Centre (OCC) at Dhaka Medical College Hospital last month. She looked afraid, and when she noticed a man sitting in the room, she immediately cringed.

She is a rape victim.

For about a week after her rescue, she hardly spoke, OCC officials recall.

Her trauma and fear is shared by another rape survivor, a married woman, who was rescued from a sex racket in India last year.

“It’s not easy to tell even your closest family members what has happened to you,” the woman told The Daily Star recently. Humiliation and shame initially prevented her from telling her husband about the sexual assault when he found her in a shelter home in India months after her rescue. Her husband later came to know about it from others.

But Joya (not her real name), a teen girl, did not need to tell anyone anything. When she was found lying unconscious beside a road by her cousin four years ago, the marks on her body said it all.

“My cousin took me to a hospital. I hardly remember anything as my mind was all confused,” she told this correspondent recently by telephone from a shelter home run by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA).

The Daily Star is withholding all the victims’ names.

In 2012, Joya was abducted by her stalker who “confined and raped her at gunpoint”. Later, her unconscious body was dumped by a road. When her family tried to seek justice, the alleged rapist and his cronies attacked her house and killed her father.

In between long pauses and painful sighs, she described the difficult path she had been walking to get justice. The first blow came at the police station where there were no women’s cells or woman law enforcers.

“I felt very afraid. I couldn’t trust any one of them. They were all men,” she described her feelings at the police station.

“I didn’t want to talk, I felt groggy… screams went through my head and my heart wrenched. I kept on wondering why no one could hear my cries or see my tears.”

Then came the time for medical examination — the two-finger test — and the girl, now 16, had no idea about its insensitive nature.

For the test, doctors use their index or middle finger to check the condition of the hymen and also to look for injuries on the vaginal wall.

So when a female doctor proceeded to do the test, the girl put up resistance at first. But eventually she had to give in because, as her aunt told her, there was no other way to get justice.

Adding to her ordeal, she had to narrate the sexual assault in details repeatedly not just to the police but also to journalists against her will.

“I felt very bad, embarrassed and hurt. But I told myself I needed to do this for justice,” said the girl, who is now in class nine.

Four years on, the hearing of her case has not started yet.

But for those who have gone through the trial, the court proceedings have been a nightmare: character assassination, insensitive and even vulgar questions, cross-examinations for hours are in the defence lawyers’ arsenal to further traumatise the victim.

Fahmida Akhter Rinky, a lawyer for BNWLA dealing with rape cases at the lower court for six years, spoke about the torment a nine-year-old girl went through during a trial recently.

“The child was only about four years old when she was raped. So the judge was careful and talked with the girl softly but the defence lawyer was shouting at her and accusing her of lying about how she was raped,” said Rinky.

This is despite the medical examination documents and other evidence clearly showing that the girl was raped.

“The child was so embarrassed and ashamed that she shrunk in fear,” said Rinky.

The girl recoiled from the humiliation in the courtroom full of people and kept on looking at Rinky.

“I felt so bad that she had to go through that,” said the lawyer.

Often, defence counsels “decidedly” choose a line of questioning aimed at maligning the victim in efforts to make the crime look like the victim’s fault, said Laily Maksuda Akhter, director of Legal Aid Unit of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

To save themselves from all this, especially the two-finger test which law activists vehemently oppose, many rape victims do not report the assault to the police.

“Many victims get so traumatised that they do not want to go through the forensic examination. Children in particular scream, because they fear they would get hurt again,” said Tahmina Haque, psychological counsellor at the OCC.

However, according to Bilkis Begum, coordinator of the OCC, there is no alternative to the two-finger test for women older than nine years. “It is part of any gynecological examination. Injuries cannot be detected without it.”

In many countries, including the UK and the US, doctors use the specula, a medical tool, for the test instead of fingers.

But the main problem lies in the report itself, said Ishita Dutta, project facilitator, SHOKHI, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST). “It is not for the doctors to determine if a victim has been raped or not. But that is what they write down in the reports.”

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Abortion Saga: Morality vs Choice Wed, 27 Apr 2016 05:41:25 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri 0 Laws Criminalizing Drug Possession Can Cause More Harm Thu, 21 Apr 2016 10:40:56 +0000 Tenu Avafia and Rebecca Schleifer Tenu Avafia is a policy adviser on law, human rights and treatment access issues in the HIV, Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme

Rebecca Schleifer is a consultant at the United Nations Development Programme working on HIV, drug policies, disability and sexual rights issues.]]>

Tenu Avafia is a policy adviser on law, human rights and treatment access issues in the HIV, Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme

Rebecca Schleifer is a consultant at the United Nations Development Programme working on HIV, drug policies, disability and sexual rights issues.

By Tenu Avafia and Rebecca Schleifer

In many countries, a criminal record, even for a minor offense can have serious implications. Being convicted of a criminal offence renders one ineligible for certain jobs, social grants or benefits or from even being able to exercise one’s right to vote. It can also severely limit the ability to travel to certain countries and can result in the loss of custody of minor children. As prison conditions are often poor and health care services limited, a custodial sentence can have implications on the health outcomes of individuals.

Laws criminalizing drug possession for personal use and other non-violent, low-level drug offences drive people away from harm reduction services, placing them at increased risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis and death by overdose. Prison sentences for women may result in the incarceration of their infants and young children, who stay with them for all or part of their sentence.

Another area where the shortcoming of many drug control policies is evident is that of controlled medicines. Overly restrictive drug control regulations and practices, have effectively excluded 5.5 billion people – or approximately 75 percent of the world’s population – from access to essential medicines like morphine to treat pain.

Many countries are exploring or initiating law and policy reforms with the aim of giving greater prominence to the Sustainable Development Goals as adopted by UN Members States in September 2015 or as enshrined in numerous human rights treaties. Some of these reforms will address the social harms of traditional drug policies on the poor and most marginalized. These include providing alternatives to arrest and incarceration for minor drug offences, harm reduction programmes, decriminalization of drug users and small farmers and increased access to pain medication.

One such example is the case of Jamaica, which decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis and legalized its cultivation and consumption for religious, medicinal and research purposes. Jamaica also reformed its legislation to permit expungement of convictions for the personal possession or use of small quantities of cannabis. These decisions were prompted, in part, by concerns about the serious harmful consequences of criminalization on the long term prospects of young men who otherwise would be ensnared in a legal system that could undermine access to for example decent employment and economic growth as envisioned by Sustainable Development Goal Eight.

Jamaica’s reforms recognize that the connection between drugs and crime is not so straightforward. They put people first and in turn promote its citizens human development. The implications of this measure, together with others described in a recent discussion paper released by UNDP will be important as more countries look to make evidence informed, development sensitive changes to drug policy.


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Gender Equality and Equity in Health Will Anchor Drive Towards a Sustainable National Development Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:37:56 +0000 Sicily Kariuki and Siddharth Chatterjee Sicily K. Kariuki, (Mrs), CBS is the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Sicily K. Kariuki.  Photo Credit: @UNFPA

Sicily K. Kariuki. Photo Credit: @UNFPA

By Sicily K. Kariuki, CBS and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Last month, the Government of Kenya (GoK) in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the sidelines of the 60th Session of the UN Commission of Women in New York, launched the report on the ‘Assessment of the UNFPA Campaign to End Preventable Maternal and New-born Mortality in support of the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa’

The assessment report by Deloitte Consulting captures the important strides the country has made to significantly address disparities in advancing maternal and new-born health at all levels.

These findings manifests Government’s commitment and determination to address inequalities as envisioned by one of the key principles of Agenda 2030, by ensuring that no one is left behind.

The cornerstone of the Government’s commitment is to strengthen the partnerships between GoK, development partners, and other stakeholders nationally, regionally and globally.

This manifested in March 2015, His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a high-level meeting in Nairobi which engaged religious leaders as key partners in fighting against social and cultural drivers that inhibit women’s empowerment, many of which contribute to their poor sexual and reproductive health.

That advocacy drive by the Government of Kenya and UNFPA has culminated in an innovative project that is now being implemented in six of the forty seven counties with the highest maternal and child deaths.

The program in Kenya’s underserved counties by public and private partners together with UN agencies is a good benchmark in identifying the sub-populations that are not obtaining health care, the reasons for those barriers, and the actions that can be taken to remove them.

The project recognizes that to achieve health equity, gender equality, and fulfil the right to health as guaranteed in the Constitution, it is essential to identify the underlying causes of health inequalities. This calls for a need to look inwards, rather than global indicators. It is only by identifying the disadvantaged or excluded groups, that evidence-based policies, programs and practices can be designed and inequalities tackled effectively.

The focus on 15 counties that bear 98.7% of all maternal deaths in the country was preceded by a survey undertaken by one of Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning -University of Nairobi, which revealed the multiple challenges faced by these communities. These challenges include various historical and cultural reasons that disadvantage the most vulnerable, invariably female, poor, rural and thus voiceless and marginalized.

In short, while national averages are important for monitoring overall progress, it is time to realize that these national indicators do not provide the complete picture. One example should suffice: in 2014, the national female genital mutilation prevalence rate in Kenya dropped to 21% from 27% in 2009. However, in the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- no one can be left behind, focus should remain on the communities where prevalence rate still stands as high as 98%.

The SDGs now emphasize the need for active focus on equity, gender and human rights, specifically Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries and the role of health services in securing national and global peace. There is general consensus that health can serve as a bridge for peace and can have collateral benefits, including nipping in the bud some of the drivers of violent extremism.

It is also apt because some of the counties with high maternal death burden are also prone to internal conflicts, feelings of exclusion and poverty that drive extremism.

Reproductive health complications represent a hideous feedback loop, as they are not only the result of poverty, but also contribute to poverty.

In addressing access to reproductive health matters and gender equality, there is no space for complacency. We are talking about sheer survival not just of the women but of the entire nation. Healthier women mean healthier children and that means thriving societies.

As the UNDP Administrator, Ms Helen Clark remarked, “Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies.” A good place to begin is empowering Kenya’s youth, especially girls. The multiplier effect of girls’ education on several aspects of development is now well documented. Education reduces high fertility rates, lowers infant and child mortality rates, lowers maternal mortality rates and increases labour force participation.

Empowering, educating and employing Kenya’s women and girls will launch our economy to new heights and ensure Kenya reaps a demographic dividend. His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stressed that “Progress for women is progress for all …….”

For development to be sustainable and resilient, it must be inclusive and equitable, given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must and not an option.


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Plan for Poorer Countries to Fund HIV Response Raises Concerns Mon, 11 Apr 2016 19:58:18 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands In Zimbabwe, four out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15-19 reported taking an HIV test in the last 12 months. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

In Zimbabwe, four out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15-19 reported taking an HIV test in the last 12 months. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Calls for low and middle income countries to contribute an additional 6.1 billion dollars to the global HIV response by 2020 could see some vulnerable groups left behind, said HIV activists meeting at the United Nations last week.

A report recently published by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls for low and middle income countries to increase their funding for the global HIV response by 6.1 billion by 2020, versus only an additional 2.8 billion requested from wealthy countries.

The proposed changes to funding could affect vulnerable groups, including adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who now make up 74 percent of new HIV infections in the 15 to 24 age group according to UNAIDS.

Annah Sango, from Zimbabwe, a Youth Advisor with the Global Network for Young People Living with HIV told IPS that these figures partially reflect how hard it is for young women to negotiate safe sex, even within a marriage.

“It leaves young women and girls vulnerable to STIs, vulnerable to unintended pregnancies, vulnerable to HIV, and also vulnerable to gender based violence,” she said.

Some 2000 girls and young women are being infected with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa each week, Marama Pala Chair of the international community of women living with HIV global told journalists at the UN here last week.

A reduction in resources could see addressing the complex social and cultural causes of the rise in infections among young women in Sub-Saharan Africa become a lesser priority, said Pala.

Javier Hourcade Bellocq of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance who along with Pala co-chairs the civil society task force at the United Nations said that a reliance on domestic funding could see some vulnerable groups left out.

“The overarching question is would a government in Asia or Latin America be able to provide funding for a female sex worker organisation, for advocacy, for a watchdog (group)? — probably not,” said Bellocq.

However Bellocq said that domestic finances are an important part of a sustainable HIV response and that low and middle income countries have already been slowly increasing their investment.

“Often civil society organisations and activists have been perceived as putting pressure on international donors and wealthy and developed countries where in fact it’s not true, most of our work is putting stress on domestic funding,” he said.

Bellocq said that it was important not to presume that all governments with the same income classification had the same capacity to contribute to the HIV and AIDS response.

The classifications do “not reflect income inequalities and internal debt that many middle income countries currently face,” he said.

Jamila Headley, Managing Director of the Health Global Access Project, told IPS that UNAIDS analysis of the fiscal space used to justify the increased financing from low and middle income countries was based on inaccurate information.

For example, she said, “In Malawi the government has just had to cut several health care workers from the budget because they don’t have funds.”

Headley also said that the proposed changes “undercut our efforts to push governments in the West to support as much as they can.”

The Global HIV response has shown “unprecedented mobilization of solidarity across countries,” she said, “we’ve come so far and so to come to this place where we can actually see an end in sight and to then talk about scaling back that solidarity is hugely disappointing to us.”

In a statement provided to IPS, UNAIDS said that its approach is to encourage low and middle income countries to “increase country ownership by increasing domestic spending on HIV.”

“However, the international community ​​has a responsibility to ensure that ​HIV ​programs​ are able to reach the communities that are most vulnerable to HIV​ ​in countries that have the least ability to fully fund a comprehensive HIV response,” the statement said.

Meanwhile Headley said that the proposed changes in funding could affect groups requiring special attention including adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The rising rates of incidence among women aged 14 to 25 in Sub-Saharan Africa is exactly why we need full funding to support targeted, high impact prevention,” she said.

Pala an indigenous woman from New Zealand living with HIV said that women can sometimes “get lost in the epidemic,” and that the response should be intersectional in nature. But she also said that activism by other more prominent groups affected by HIV has helped women, including herself.

“There is a very strong activism from the key populations and we needed that,” she said. “For myself living with HIV if that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have the medication and be alive today.”

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NGO Pledges $500 Million Towards Sustainable Development Goals Fri, 25 Mar 2016 17:10:50 +0000 Valentina Ieri On the right Bruce Wilkinson, President and CEO of CMMB - Healthier Lives Worldwide. Next to him (in the middle) stands Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Zambia to the United Nations, at the CMMB conference on $500 million for the U.N. SDGs, event on March 21. Photo: CMMB

On the right Bruce Wilkinson, President and CEO of CMMB - Healthier Lives Worldwide. Next to him (in the middle) stands Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Zambia to the United Nations, at the CMMB conference on $500 million for the U.N. SDGs, event on March 21. Photo: CMMB

By Valentina Ieri

CMMB -Healthier Lives Worldwide– a leading international nonprofit health non-governmental organisation (NGO) – has pledged 500 million dollars to help implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)– with a specific focus on maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

The commitment will be deployed through the NGO’s flagship initiatives CHAMPS– which is a maternal and child health program – and the Healing Help– which is a platform for the distribution of medications and health commodities in partnership with the pharmaceutical companies.

Bruce Wilinson, President and CEO of CMMB

Bruce Wilinson, President and CEO of CMMB

The announcement was made by CMMB’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bruce Wilkinson, at a press conference at the U.N. Headquarters on March 21. Speaking along with him were the Permanent Representatives of the Missions of Zambia, Kenya, and Haiti.

“CMMB is taking a bold step by providing $500 million over the next five years for general support of the UN’s SDGs and the Every Woman Every Child campaign, in particular. We can take this important step because we work in partnership with so many equally dedicated organisations,” said Wilkinson.

The NGO’s new commitment, which is in line with the updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health– launched in 2015 by Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in order to end all forms of preventable death for women, children and adolescents – builds on a previous commitment made in 2014.

Initially, explained Wilkinson, CMMB committed to establish by 2020, 20 CHAMPS programs, whose acronym stands for Children and Mothers Partnerships,to provide long-term health care support and training in five developing countries: Haiti, Zambia, Kenya, Peru, and South Sudan.

The target of 20 CHAMPS by 2020 was presented with an initial pledge of 22 million dollar cash, and 33 million dollar in Gifts-in Kind, mostly pharmaceutical products.

“We are ahead of schedule and have already committed 8 million dollars to our pledge of 22 million,” commented Wilkinson, who remarked that eight CHAMPS programs have been successfully implemented in those countries, and the ninth one will be implemented this summer.

“Champs brings together the clinical and community aspects”, Wilkinson told IPS, “linking households in a tangible way to sustained public and clinical interventions based on real need. We are also able to track and measure effective health delivery which in the long run changes peoples demand for health services as a basic right.”

“Over 1,200 professional medical volunteers have been deployed,” he pointed out, including “680,000 (people) have been directly assisted of which 200,000 mothers and children under the age of five. 3,843 community health workers and clinicians have been trained and 165 medical facilities have been supported (through) the CHAMPS programming.”

Praising the long relationship between CMMB and local partners in Zambia, Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Zambia to the U.N. congratulated CMMB for its renewal commitment to the U.N. 2030 Agenda.

“CMMB has been working to reach [remote] areas in (Zambia) and have been providing the much needed services, along with the economic empowerment for women in order to ensure that women and their families can live healthy lives […] We are asking for others to join the partnerships that have already been created by CMMB.”

Paul Mikov, CMMB’s Vice President for Institutional Partnerships, said that despite the immense progress made in reducing global maternal and child mortality rates through the implementation of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, and the new 17 SDGs adopted in 2015, “hundreds of thousands of mothers still die every single year while giving life at birth, and almost six million children under 5years of age die every year from preventable causes.”

Figures from the World Health Organisation show that since the 1990s global maternal mortality has dropped by 43 percent. However, in 2015, 303 000 women were estimated to die due to childbirth complications, diseases, or infections. Currently, around 830 women die every day, 99 percent of whom live in developing countries.

For over a century, CMMB-Healthier Lives Worldwide has been fighting on the front lines for global health, equality, environmental protection, access to safe and clean water, and women’s empowerment, Wilkinson remarked, while also leading several health relief activities in the highest burden countries, where women and children in local communities lacked access to adequate health services.

According to the data provided by the NGO, over the last ten years, the organisation has provided over two billion dollars in medicines and health and medical supplies to local healthcare partners in 120 countries. In 2015, CMMB collaborated with more than 220 institutional partners worldwide.

The event on March 21 was an occasion to celebrate CMMB-Healthier Lives Worldwide long-standing partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, which in many ways has operated as the backbone for this joint venture of bringing needed resources and services in high burden countries worldwide.

“Our long standing relationships with the pharmaceutical industry will be optimized to meet the needs especially in the highest burden countries where women and children experience the highest morbidity and mortality rates globally,” said Wilkinson.

Between 2016 and 2020, through the Healing Help platform, CMMB will deliver the 500 million U.S. dollars worth of medicines and health commodities, marking a 30 percent increase in medical products to countries such as Nigeria, India, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Burundi, Zambia, South Sudan, Kenya, Haiti, Malawi, Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, explained Wilkinson.

On the occasion of renewing its commitment to the 17 SDGs, CMMB also launched its new visual identity and logo “CMMB Healthier Lives Worldwide“. Lara Villar, CMMB’s Senior Vice President for Strategy and Organizational Measurements, said:

“Our new logo expresses our newer vision and strategy, the way we work in partnership and our commitment to improve the life of women and children. This is an important step for CMMB to be seen as modern and relevant. […] Our visual identity illustrates who we are. It is a symbol of our faith our core values and our mission to achieve Healthier Lives Worldwide.”

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Women at the Helm Sat, 12 Mar 2016 22:11:14 +0000 Abbas Nasir By Abbas Nasir
Mar 12 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

If a string of recent events have sparked a bit of optimism among the observers of the country`s politics and students of its rather tragic history it is indeed a welcome development.

When such columnists and writers, who had been forced by decades of depression due to an endless downward spiral into being no more than prophets of doom and gloom, begin to see and acknowledge signs of change it appears a safe bet to believe something positive is afoot.

Side by side with this optimism, another debate that has adorned the op-ed pages of major newspapers, at least in the English language, has focused on whether Pakistan can ever be a liberal society or will remain conservative. Frankly, I lack the intellectual prowess to take sides in this debate.

Let me share, nonetheless, what gives me hope about our country`s future; in fact, what has always filled me with hope about tomorrow: Pakistan`s women. Yes, its women, so many of whom toil unsung in the far reaches of the country more than equal in their contribution to the household income but still tragically unequal in status, in wages and in many other aspects.

Before the state recently applied the brakes and did an about-turn from the road to perdition it seemed committed to, for years and years the only ray of hope that I nurtured and cherished was that half of the country`s population would one day rise up and prevent what seemed like a determined attempt at collective suicide.

What gave me this optimism? Well let me tell you.

Before my third birthday I was struck by the polio virus. Lack of awareness of polio`s ravages meant there was no inoculation. Even some of the top pediatricians were ignorant of the disease and I was treated for several weeks for typhoid.

My mother was a small-framed woman with a steely resolve. Despite being devastated by what had happened to me (I was told by family and friends much later in life), she never betrayed any signs of her anguish.

Over the following years of my life she not only taught me to walk a second time but also drummed into me a never-say-die spirit. We lived in Rawalpindi and often headed to Murree for picnics with other families.

My mother would carry me on her hip to the highest point other children got to, to play. I am sure if she needed to she`d drag me up the hill too so I didn`t feel left behind. Thus, I grew up feeling pretty self assured and saw my disability as no more than a minor inconvenience.

From my mother the baton passed to some of the most incredible teachers one can have. All of whom were women. For me learning from them was not just about the `course` for the year. They taught me the meaning of respect, of equality and of decency. Each one determined that I had all I needed to succeed despite the obvious mobility challenge.

Oh yes, the law of averages did kick in and one or two of my women teachers left a lot to be desired like some of their male counterparts. But on the whole, whether in my circle of family and friends or in my professional life, the women who have influenced me with their professionalism and commitment would outnumber men.

One criticism that is the favourite of nit-picl.

I don`t agree. Just to mention three, where did Mukhtar Mai, Kainat Soomro and Malala Yousafzai all women of substance come from? They came from either the middle class or the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder and look what they have achieved with their grit.

It is true that I am restraining myself from naming more women as my word count limitation will not permit to but seriously look around you and acknowledge the excellence that women bring to each endeavour.

In my journalistic career, I have worked with two of the gutsiest editors in Pakistan and both happened to be women. The news magazines they edited were a tribute to their vision and their commitment to the truth.

The pluralistic society and sanity they advocated through their pages was done through difficult, turbulent times and yet we, the reporters, were free to seek out the truth and write everything we wanted to.

We were never confronted with a `no` for an answer.

Today too our women colleagues hold up the banner of objective journalism aloft. Dawn`s refocused op-ed pages have much to do with the newspaper`s first woman op-ed editor, Zubeida Mustafa, with whom I worked. Women on the editorial team continue to provide nuanced brilliance to date. The reporters `bylines tell their own story too. Elsewhere in the media, in parliament, in law, in medicine, science, architecture, in fact wherever you look a revolution is under way with a large number of urban women from all socioeconomic tiers excelling and leaving their long entrenched male peers, well, sitting.

All that society needs to do to reinforce the sense of optimism currently being expressed and to accelerate to the promise of a brighter tomorrow is to let the women take their rightful place at the helm; create an enabling environment where the women can do what they want to and see what happens.

It isn`t difficult to imagine what Pakistan will 1001< like given where our women have got to despite endless obstacles in their path whether in the name of culture, traditions or most ominously religion. Ability and potential, not gender bias, will determine our future.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Alcohol Harm a Gender Empowerment Issue Tue, 08 Mar 2016 17:57:38 +0000 Kristina Sperkova Kristina Sperkova is President of IOGT International, a global temperance movement.]]>

Kristina Sperkova is President of IOGT International, a global temperance movement.

By Kristina Sperkova
NEW YORK, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world – often against great odds and all too often remaining invisible.

But women and girls worldwide are change makers and leaders for a better world. Role models are many.

Kristina Sperkova

Kristina Sperkova

It’s this perspective and understanding that makes us both hopeful and concerned. We are hopeful because we’ve seen considerable progress and vast achievements in gender equality and women empowerment. We are concerned because we also face major challenges not only to the achievements made but also to the health and well being of women and girls in general.

Last September, world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The Agenda2030 is a remarkable achievement, holding tremendous potential for sustainable and transformative change.

But there, too, are massive obstacles. Alcohol harm is a crosscutting obstacle to achieving the SDGs, as it negatively impacts 12 out of 17 goals, including SDG5.

Alcohol harm is clearly a Women’s Rights and gender empowerment issue. The world faces three major challenges for achieving gender equality, in the form of three global epidemics: Non-communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, and Gender-based violence.

Each of these three global epidemics is disproportionately burdening women and girls, especially women in low- and middle-income countries and they have one common risk factor: alcohol use.

Alcohol is one of four major risk factors in the global epidemic that are non-communicable diseases. NCDs are the leading cause of death globally. A staggering 35 million people die every year from NCDs, of which 18 million are women. NCDs represent the biggest threat to women’s health worldwide, increasingly burdening women from developing countries in their most productive years

Secondly, alcohol is also a risk factor in the global epidemic of gender-based violence. Every third woman is subjected to violence at least once during her lifetime. In some parts of the world gender-based violence can be related to alcohol in up to 80% of the cases. And alcohol marketing plays a role in perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes of women; alcohol ads often depict women in de-humanized, sexualized and objectified ways. Alcohol marketing fuels gender-based violence and erodes women empowerment.

And thirdly, alcohol is a risk factor for HIV/AIDS because it increases the likelihood to engage in risky sexual behavior – like unprotected sex, frequent change of partners or violent sex. Alcohol weakens the immune system making it more susceptible for the HI-Virus and it makes adhesion to medication for people who are HIV-positive more difficult. In many aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, women are disproportionately burdened.

It is with this on mind that we urgently encourage and support the world’s governments to apply the tools of high-impact and cost-effective alcohol policy in our joint efforts for women empowerment.

Alcohol policy measures, such as the Three Best Buys of increasing the price, reducing the availability and banning advertising – as described by World Bank, World Health Organization and World Economic Forum (among others) – are crucial tools for harnessing the potential of the Agenda2030 in general and the Gender Equality Goals (SDG5) in particular – including 4 of the targets under SDG5.

The three best buys of alcohol policy can contribute to bring about transformative change for women and girls, in helping to end all forms of discrimination, to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence, and to facilitate women’s full participation in public life.

We have the evidence. We have the political tools. We have societal momentum. Now we need political will and leadership.

What better day is there than International Women’s Day? What better moment in time, only a few days ahead of the 60th Commission on the Status of Women can there be – to stand up, together, for using all tools available for advancing gender equality.


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A Different Honour Tue, 01 Mar 2016 18:02:09 +0000 Bina Shah This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Bina Shah
Mar 1 2016 (IPS)

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy`s record second win at the Oscars for her short document ary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is proof that lightning can actually strike twice. Hardly four years ago, Chinoy was standing at the same stage in Los Angeles, accepting an Oscar for her documentary Saving Face, about Pakistani victims of acid attacks. Chinoy`s current Oscar winner examines a no less painful subject, honour killings in Pakistan.

The story centres around 18-year-old Saba, who fell in love with a man of her own choice; her father shot her in the head and threw her in a river to avenge the family`s `honour` Saba incredibly survived her ordeal and went to court against her family. Today, she stands as a powerful witness against these abhorrent crimes as one of the few to actually escape death at the hands of a family intent on avenging their slighted honour with a blood sacrifice.

The amount of global conversation about the movie and its subject is uncomfortable for many Pakistanis to bear. They don`t like being singled out as the country where women are killed for honour and perpetrators get away because of legal loopholes that permit a victim`s heirs to `forgive` the murderer. Yet if we can manage to bear our discomfort with the same grace and patience that Saba must bear the scars on her face, we might be able to enact a real change in Pakistani law, if not the attitudes behind the criminal act of honour killings.

Chinoy has stated in interviews that her real hope for this film is to see it put enough pressure on Pakistan`s government that it will enact an anti-honour killing law that has been languishing in the Senate since 2014.

This particular law, according to senator Sherry Rehman, herself an ardent champion of women`s rights, was passed in the National Assembly but is still in committee, meaning that it can`t yet be considered legal in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, women are still being killed for honour every day, in the name of tradition; 1,000 women a year, says Chinoy, are killed in Pakistan in honour crimes.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the Oscar buzz surrounding Chinoy`s film and hosted a special screening of the movie in late February, the week before the Oscars.

Afterwards, he promised to make real efforts to eradicate the loopholes that allow perpetrators to escape unpunished for this crime.

Given the amount of injustices that exist in Pakistan today, would that a film could be made about each one that might be nominated for an Oscar. Then perhaps our government might pay attention to all the problems with the laws that on paper address theseissues but in practice are so ineffectively implemented.

Chinoy`s film and its Oscar win may be the push the government needs to enact an allencompassing law against honour killings. It comes within days of the Punjab government enacting the Punjab Women`s Protection Bill 2015, a landmark ruling that comprehensively penalises particular crimes against women including domestic violence, emotional, economic and psychological abuse, cyber crime, stalking and abetting of offenders.

This law is different from previous iterations in that it also proposes mechanisms to implement the laws, including violence against women centres, toll-free helplines, and restraining orders that can be enforced by fitting perpetrators with GPS tracking devices to ensure they stay away from the women they are terrorising.

For the first time in our society, the government has spelled out the various ways inwhich women are not just physically but also emotionally and mentally abused. And it has placed itself firmly on the side of the victim ratherthanthe aggressor, a sea change in our heavily patriarchal society.

Don`t expect societal attitudes towards gender-based violence to change overnight. Assoon as the women`s protection bill was passed, the religious right-wing was out making statements in the newspapers and appearing on television to protest the destruction of the family and the weakening of men`s standing in society. But for the first time, their protests rang hollow.

With more Pakistanis growing aware of women`s right to live in peace and safety, what is seen as religiously sanctioned male supremacy can no longer act as a cloak under which all these crimes remain hidden forever, in complete opposition to Islam`s true stance of protecting women from them.

No doubt there will be people who dismiss Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy as a `traitor` or an `agent` bent on disgracing Pakistan with her important films. To them, she has besmirche d their honour by bringing worldwide attention to a major injustice in our society. But if it helps to do away with the rot in our system that allows women and girls to die in the name of `honour`, the Oscar spotlight would be welcome in our darkest corners.

The writer is an author.

Twitter: @binashah

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Of the Same Ilk Sat, 27 Feb 2016 20:26:03 +0000 Aasim Sajjad Akhtar This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Feb 27 2016 (IPS)

IT has been almost two weeks since the beginning of a protest movement of students, teachers and the wider democratic community in and around Delhi`s famed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that represents arguably the biggest challenge that Narendra Modi`s BJP government has faced since coming to power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we in this country have scarcely paid attention to the whole af fair, even though it tells us much about India, its politics, and, indeed, just how similar our two countries are.

The story begins with the head of the JNU student union publicly denouncing the secretive manner in which Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru a convicted `terrorist` was executed three years ago. Twenty-eight-year old Kanhaiya Kumar is doing a doctorate in African Studies at JNU, and is associated with the All-India Students Federation, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Needless to say, Kumar does not harbour any ideological sympathies for Guru, but he nevertheless is entitled, like all principled opponents of organised power, to ask questions about the state`s `counterterrorism` juggernaut.

History teaches us that it is precisely these types of principled questions that most threaten established structures of power because they expose the ideological foundations of domination. On cue, Kumar was arrested on sedition charges and sent to jail, with other student leaders put on a blacklist amidst a widespread propaganda drive denouncing Kumar and his associates as `enemies of India`.

The arrests and vilification campaign were met with outrage, and thousands of students mobilised at JNU as well as numerous other campuses across the country against the Modi regime. Indeed, students were already up in arms following the suicide of Hyderabad University PhD student Rohith Vemula a few weeks earlier in protest against the discrimination meted out to him by the university administration on account of his Dalit activism. Kumar`s arrest only confirmed that the BJP government is hell-bent on reinforcing India`s worst traditions of Brahmin supremacism and state authoritarianism.

And herein lies the rub. For all of the insistence ofstateideologues on bothsides of the border, India and Pakistan are far more similar than they are different. And here I am not referring to our shared cultural traits and dispositions but to the legacy of colonial rule that continues to shape how our states think and act.

The decision to accuse Kumar of fanning `anti-state` sentiments is hardly an anomaly.

The Indian state has not hesitated to lodge sedition charges against dissidents in the past, and its propensity to do so is unlikely to be diminished by the current episode.NationalistsinKashmir,AssamandNagaland, caste activists, leaders of ecological movements all have suffered the state`s wrath, their only crime being their willingness to speak up for their legitimate rights.

The Pakistani state is of the same ilk. It could even be argued thatit has outdone its Indian counterpart over the years inasmuch as anti-state charges are bandied about even more liberally in this country than next door.

Yet it matters little which state is better at criminalising dissent because both do it well enough to be considered virtually indistinguishable.

Of course there are also stark differences in our respective political contexts. The very fact that educated young people have carried on a mass protest against Rohith`s suicide and Kanhaiya`s arrest confirms the fruits of democracy students in Pakistani varsities have not even had the right to elect their own representatives for more than 30 years sinceZiaul Haq banned unions in 1984.

In this country the army remains a sacred cow which guards the `ideological frontiers` of the state a power that is unmatched by any institution in India.

Indeed, one could not countenance the creation of military courts through a con-stitutional amendment in Delhi as happened in Islamabad in January 2015.

So while we in Pakistan feel outrage at the nationalist jingoism currently on show in India, we are also a little bit envious at the democratic means available to those who function as the conscience of Indian society to resist state power. There is little doubt that democratic forces in India face a pushback from right-wing zealots today unlike anything they have ever faced before the fact that a party espousing `Hindutva` as its guiding ideology is running the government at the centre indicates just how far the religious right has come. But progressive traditions in India run deep, and it is these traditions that inspire radicals on this side of the border in our evolving struggle against the establishment and the forces of reaction.

In the final analysis, Indians and Pakistanis share the same future, just as we share the same past. If this future is to be a democratic, plural and egalitarian one, it will be in spite of rather than because of the states that we have inherited.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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Dealing with Security Threats Thu, 25 Feb 2016 23:07:10 +0000 I.A. Rehman This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By I.A. Rehman
Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

The Lahore Literary Festival has ended in a blaze of success. The uncertainty about its being held at all and the doubts about the people`s capacity to defy fear and much else made the event all the more enjoyable. But the issues regarding the ways of dealing with security threats that it gave rise to still need to be seriously addressed.

The Punjab government has a good record of guaranteeing security at religious and cultural events that have been held in the provincial capital since the beginning of November 2015. The three-day Thaap conference on history, art and culture was held on private premises without bothering the lawenforcement agencies. Then there were three big events at Alhamra: the Faiz Festival, the Khayal Festival, and finally, the Lahore Arts Council`s own literary extravaganza. Only a few days before the LLF was to begin a Faiz Aman Mela was held at the Open Air Theatre. Since Lahore has never been free of threats from extremists the administration could claim credit for extending security to all these functions.

One is at aloss to ñnd a reasonfor the panic the authorities created by going to the extent ofundermining a festival that not only the city of Lahore but the country as a whole had begun to feel proud of.

Assuming that the threat-makers had a special reason to target the LLF guests or the crowds how did the authorities calculate that security could be guaranteed at Avari and not at Alhamra and how did they fix the number of foreign guests they could protect? Any precise answers to these questions would imply that the authorities knew more of the extremists` plans than is ever possible.

While faced with such a situation the authorities are required to deliberate on two interrelated points: the significance of the event under threat and the cost of asking for its cancellation. The first question was answered by the crowds the LLFattracted. No elaborate thesis is needed to demonstrate the role literature, art and culture play in enabling any people to realise themselves, especially to retain their sanity in times of conflict and despair.

Thus, LLF should have been treated as an essential activity that needed to be protected and encouraged.

As regards the cost of disallowing a major undertaking such as LLF, the cost caused to the people, in addition to the increase in the expenditure borne by the organizers, can be judged from the consequences of the change of venue and curtailment of activities.

Many people felt that the change of venue from a cultural complex open to the public to a hotel meant for the rich made the festival less foll(sy an affair.

The compulsion to trim the festival programme from three days to two led to dropping some of the activities. It is to be regretted that activities related to Punjabi language and literature had to be sacrificed and that was a huge loss. That the literary treasure and tradition of Punjab should not figure prominently in a literature festival held in Lahore is simply unthinkable. The Punjab government should be brave enough to accept at least a part of the blame.

A more important matter is the need to evolve a rational theme for dealing with terrorist threats. It goes without saying that each threat should be taken seriously, whether the target is a public figure, a state establishment or a private institution. It is also clear that the government and the targeted citizens should cooperate with each other in developing as dependable a security cover as possible. A serious cause of concern to the public is the casualness with which the authorities sometimes pass on the entire responsibility for security to the party under threat.

The orders to banks and petrol pumps to pay for security plans devised by the administration, the way schools are being ordered to meet the securityneeds, or some people are being told to go abroad are only a few illustrations of this approach.

One apparent flaw in the fight against terrorism is the absence of the role of the community/neighbourhood in protecting itself. There were times when communities threatened with communal riots or armed gangs of criminals used to organise collective defences. Similar actions were reported in the recent past from some tribal areas. We no longer hear of such initiatives in cities or villages.

Are local communities unaware of the need or justification for fighting terrorism? The mosques and shrines have been the targets of terrorist attacks. Is it impossible to develop these mosques and shrines as the nuclei of resistance to extremism? If the lawenforcement personnel and the targets of terrorists do not have the cushion of community/neighbourhood support the danger to them is much greater than is generally reckoned. Here is one of the most unbearable consequences of not having a counterterrorism narrative the inability to mobilise the people at large to take up the fight against terrorism as their own rightful cause.

Above all, there has to be a limit up to which normal life can be allowed to be paralysed by extremists` threats. Suppose the authorities receive information about a possible attack on the civil secretarlat in Lahore or the parliament house in Islamabad.

Will these institutions be closed down? Let us not forget that each time a public function is cancelled because of threat to security, or a school is closed or a public figure is told to go into exile the terrorists are handed over a victory they do not deserve. There has to be a balance between the steps that citizens and public/private institutions must take by way of precaution and what the state must do to protect its citizens. surely a state that does not promise its citizens freedom from fear in fact denies them the right to life in its real sense.


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The Law of Forgiveness Wed, 24 Feb 2016 21:45:57 +0000 Zahid Hussain The issue is bigger than ‘honour’ killing; it is the law of forgiveness that protects the killers.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

The issue is bigger than ‘honour’ killing; it is the law of forgiveness that protects the killers.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Zahid Hussain
Feb 24 2016 (IPS)

More than 1,000 women are killed in the name of honourin this country every year, according to official figures. But the actual numbers are believed to be much higher. Saba Qaiser, 19, would have been one of them had she not miraculously survived drowning in a river after having been shot in the head. Unsurprisingly, those who tried to finish her off were none other than her own relatives her father and uncle as happens in most such cases of `honour`crime.

Sharmeen Obald Chinoy`s brilliant 40-minute documentary A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness is the story of that 19-year-old from Gujranwala. Nominated for an Academy Award, the short film is surely a powerful portrayal of the plight of a victim of honour crime. But it is not just the story of a brave girl who defied death and is now living happily with the man she loved and risked her life for. She is back to life with a scar left by the bullet that pierced her cheekbone, but is still haunted by theincident.

It is more about the law of forgiveness that protects the killers. Saba`s father and uncle are now free and with no remorse for what they had done.

Under the pressure of local elders and the clan she has forgiven her tormentors. Perhaps they would have killed Saba in the second attempt and even then would have gotten away with murder using the provision of the law that allows a family member to forgive the perpetrator.

By reaching her, Ms Chinoy may have saved the life of that girl from Gujranwala. But hundreds of other women 1(illed every year in this land of the pure are not that lucl

The documentary reveals the various forces that come into play in this 1(ind of situation. While the law of forgiveness marginalises the role of the state, it gives sway to the local elders who force a compromise. The odds are invariably stacked against the victim and the sympathies are with the perpetrators as happened in the case of Saba. The village elders who played the role of arbiter arranged the compromise were clearly on the side of the father whose honour, they argued, was violated by her action.

Poverty and circumstances too become a factor in limiting options for the victim. Saba would never have forgiven her tormentors had she not been afraid of being shunned by the community and the state being unable to provide her protection. She also faced the traumatic reality of her own father having tried to kill her, and then the family ostracising her. The offenders come out triumphant in the bargain while the onus lies on the victim.

Of course, there was no question of shame and remorse; instead the brutal act appears to have further empowered Saba`s father who felt that he had done something right that earned him immense respect in the community. He boasted that hisaction had improved the prospect of marriage for his other daughter.

Such grandstanding by a criminal is perhaps the most disturbing part of the documentary. One can hardly find any such example of the state being a silent spectator in the face of such defiance. One wonders if the murderers would have had the same response from the community had they been punished for the crime. Perhaps the narrative would have been very different if there was no legal provision of forgiveness.

The problem with `honour` killing as described by Ms Chinoy is that it`s considered to be in the domain of the home. A father kills his daughter or a brother kills his sister and nobody files a case as they feel it would bring shame to the family. This mindset is not just regressive, it actually provides impunity to the murderers.

For long, human rights groups have been fighting to get honour killing to be treated as a crime against the state to make the provision of forgiveness ineffective But it seems hard to convince the lawmakers. The biggest contribution of the documentary is that it has opened up a national discourse that crimes against women have nothing to do with honour.

Whether or not the documentary will fetch a second Oscar for Ms Chinoy, the film has already made a powerful impact even drawing the prime minister`s attention to the issue. One is, however, not sure if it is the Oscar nomination or the message in the film itself has prompted Sharif to recognise the killings in the name of honour as a serious problem.

One hopes that his interest goes beyond screening the film at the Prime Minister`s Office. There is an urgent need to amend the law to remove the provision of forgiveness that empowers people like Saba`s father.

The writer is an author and joumalist.

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Hopes and `Honour` Killings Wed, 24 Feb 2016 13:12:47 +0000 Rafia Zakaria This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan ]]> The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports an increase in honor killings in Pakistan - 923 women and 82 minor girls in 2014.Only 20 percent of cases are brought to justice. Credit: Adil Siddiqi/IPS

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports an increase in honor killings in Pakistan - 923 women and 82 minor girls in 2014.Only 20 percent of cases are brought to justice. Credit: Adil Siddiqi/IPS

By Rafia Zakaria
Feb 24 2016 (IPS)

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently watched A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obald Chinoy`s Oscar-nominated documentary about `honour` killings. In a statement following the screening, he told Ms Chinoy and his audience that there is no `honour` in murder.

In the days sinceithas been announced that the government will move to plug holes in laws that currently allow killers (often family members) to go unpunished. Ms Chinoy has expressed the hope that her film would help put an end to honour killings in Pakistan.

It would be wonderful if her wish came true. The reasons it will not are the ones that the government needs to address if it truly wishes to tackle the problem.

Before reasons, however, consider context. I pulled up two sets of statistics compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The first covers the period spanning Feb 1, 2004, to Feb 1, 2006. During this time, there were 988 incidents of honour killings in Pakistan. Nearly, but not exactly half, did not even have FIRs registered for the crime. Firearms were the weapon of choice for doing away with the victims, followed by blunt force injury with a heavy weapon.

Fast-forward a decade: another set of statistics I pulled from the HRCP database was from between February 2014 to February 2016. The number of honour killings in this period was 1,276, nearly 400 did not have FIRs registered, and most of the victims were killed by guns.

The decade in the middle has not been one without legislative initiatives or civil society campaigns to end honour killings. I chose the period immediately following 2004 because that marked the passage of a bill against honour crimes. As political machinations go, the bill that was actually passed was a diluted version of the one first introduced by senator Sherry Rehman. There was much clapping and clamour then too.

The whole thing repeated itself in March of last year with the passage through the Senate of the Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2014. Meanwhile, international human rights organisations have devoted budgets and campaigns to ending honour killings in Pakistan. As the numbers show in both cases, hon-our killings (to the extent they are even reported) have continued and even increased.

Here is why. First, legislative initiatives have focused on the legal dimensions of the issue, the latest a much needed amendment to the gisas and diyat laws that would prevent the pardoning of honour killers.Thisis a greatidea.

At the same time, like legislative initiatives of the past, it has no teeth at all against the root of the problem: that women (and men) are considered social capital in a family, marrying them a form of adding sociological assets, creating relationships that families, increasingly torn by migration and demographic change, require.

When a woman rebels against this mechanism, not only does the family lose the possibility of capital accrued from arranging her marriage, her decision jeopardises the futures of remaining brothers and sisters, their possibilities of making good matches that sustain them in a web of relationships where individual choice defeats collective security.

In a cultural and sociological system where the family and tribe are still the only and often unitary form of social insurance against catastrophe, the death of a breadwinner, illness and job losses, collective control over the individual is the glue that holds everything together.

The second reason for failure lies in the brokenmechanisms of international advocacy, particularly as they exist in countries like Pakistan, which have faced the brunt of international aggression. Simply put, since `saving brown women` became the reason to go to war, stories of hapless victims of honour killings in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria have served to fuel a moral reason as to why such imperial overtures are justified. Some brown women, those at risk of honour killings, are to be saved; others who happen to be near target zonesfordrones donot.

The hypocrisy of this is not lost on local populations but it manifests in a particularly grotesque way in the towns and villages of Pakistan that have borne direct hits from American aggression; maintaining honour, which translates roughly to controlling women, has become a nationalistic goal, a stand for local sovereignty.

Women are paying with their lives; simply telling their stories has not saved them and will not save them. This last point is important, for it represents a very troubling moral bifurcation in the aid and advocacy economy via which campaigns against honour killings are funded and the communities in which moral change must take place.

The campaigns are providing jobs and causes and in some cases, international acclaim for a few; but that will never bridge the vast chasm between topdown advocacy and urgently needed grass-roots change.

The words of the prime minister are heartening.

Like most women, I would rather have a leader willing and sincere in recognising the horror of honour crimes than one who capitulates as so many others have done.

A Pakistani woman honoured at the Oscars is also a good thing, an inspiring individual victory and a hopeful honouring, even if it is one that cannot stop future dis-honourings of less lucky Pakistani women. For that, a deeper effort is required, a local and grass-roots conversation directed at those for whom family, honour and survival are intertwined, the murderous killing of the rebel justified because it pretends to be saving all the rest.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy

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