Inter Press Service » Women’s Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:54:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Family Planning in India is Still Deeply Sexisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:11:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143833 Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The tragic death of 12 women after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh went horribly wrong in 2014 made global headlines. The episode saw about 80 women “herded like cattle” into makeshift camps without being properly examined before the laparoscopic tubectomies that snuffed out their lives. In another incident in 2013, police in the eastern Indian state of Bihar arrested three men after they performed a botched sterilisation surgery without anaesthesia on 53 women over two hours in a field.

Deaths due to sterilisation are hardly new in India. According to records, over four million such operations were performed in 2013-14 resulting in a total of 1,434 deaths between 2003 and 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation according to health ministry data.

Health activists point out that the primary reason for this mess is an overt focus on female
sterilisation in the government’s family planning programme and a woeful lack of birth-control choices for women. Other forms of contraception are not available on an adequate basis because of the lack of health-care facilities. Injectable and Progestin-only pills are on offer only in private hospitals which severely inhibits their usage by poor women.

Worse, male sterilisation is still frowned upon socially. This places the onus of birth control on women with limited participation from men. According to latest research by the global partnership, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), female sterilisation accounts for 74.4 per cent of the modern contraceptive methods used in India.

As against this, male sterilisation is merely 2.3 per cent, while use of condoms is 11.4 per cent. The use of pills constitutes just 7.5 per cent of modern methods, whereas injectables and implants are almost absent. In the southern state of Karnataka, for instance, women account for 95 per cent of sterilisations conducted at family welfare centres.

Family planning experts attribute this sharp gender disparity to an entrenched patriarchal mindset and ingrained societal attitudes. This is the main reason, say activists, why despite vasectomy being a far less invasive and less complicated procedure as compared to tubectomy, more women are forced to undergo sterilisation. Doctors reckon that tubectomies are about 10 times more common in India.

“In male sterilisation, surgeons cut and seal the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. This is far less painful than female sterilisation that involves cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which requires the entire abdomen of a woman to be cut open,” explains Dr. Pratibha Mittal, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

The Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bengaluru chapter says it receives requests from 70 to 80 women for tubectomy every month. “Rarely, if ever, does a man enquire about vasectomy,” stated a doctor.

According to health activists, rural women are under enormous pressure from husbands and in-laws to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections. Hence, they’re left with no option but to opt for surgery. The women are also offered all kinds of petty inducements to undergo sterilisation surgery highlighting the risks women face in reproductive health in a country battling high rates of poverty. Everything from washing machines to blenders to cash incentives are used to lure women to opt for sterilisation.

Health workers say sterilisation targets set by the government also push women into surgery. It is due to regressive societal attitudes that even the government’s marketing and advertising campaigns for family planning programme emphasise promotion of contraceptive pills that are used by women, instead of condoms used by men to tackle the issue of population control. “The government’s overemphasis on female sterilisation is following the easy way out thereby avoiding the difficult task of educating a vast population about other options. Teaching poorly educated women in remote communities how to use pills or contraceptives is more expensive than mass sterilisation campaigns,” says Neha Kakkar, a volunteer for non-profit Family Planning Association of India that promotes sexual health and family planning in India.

What is worrisome, say experts, is that the number of men seeking sterilisation has plummeted in the last five years. Statistics released by Delhi government show that in 2009-10 men accounted for 20 per cent of all sterilisations. It reduced to 14 per cent in 2010-11, 13 per cent in 2011-12, 8 per cent in 2012-13, 7 per cent in 2013-14 and
5 per cent in 2014-15.

Sterilisation camps were started in 1970 under the family planning programme in India with the help of the UN Population Fund and the World Bank. However, they acquired infamy during the 22-month-old Emergency in the mid-1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended democratic rule and state-funded organisations unleashed a draconian campaign to sterilise poor men through coercive means. Hundreds of men — some as young as 16 or 17, some even unmarried — were herded into trucks and taken to operating theatres in makeshift camps. Those who refused had to face police atrocities.

Health activists say such coercion never works. “There needs to be a concerted campaign to educate men about sterilisation. Most men believe that they become sexually weak after getting sterilised which isn’t true. Wives, under pressure, then take on the onus of family planning on themselves forgetting the fact that their husbands are equally responsible for this,” explains Dr. Mittal.

Experts emphasise that a paradigm shift in attitudes is what’s needed to change sterilisation trends in the country. More so as India is all set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030 with numbers approaching 1.5 billion. Worse, 11 per cent more male children are born every year as compared to
females, as against a benchmark of 5 per cent shows UN data deepening an already skewed sex ratio.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent grievance redress system to allow people to report coercion and poor quality services at sterilisation centres. It also said the government should prioritise training for male government workers to provide men with information and counselling about contraceptive choices. But there is little evidence that this has been implemented.

Be that as it may, there’s succour to be derived from the fact India’s population growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54 per cent in 1991-2000 to 17.64 per cent in 2001-11. According to government data, India’s total fertility rate has also plunged from 2.6 in 2008 to 2.3 in 2013.

With constant media pressure, besides sterilisation, the government is also trying to increase the basket of contraceptives and making them available under the national family planning programme. India has recently introduced injectable contraceptive as part of national family planning programme.

“Providing greater choice and improved access to modern contraceptives should become an inextricable part of India’s health and gender-equality programme,” advises Kakkar. “Public sensitisation campaigns about the benefits of family planning, and replacing coercive surgeries with access to a range of modern reproductive health choices, should form the bedrock of our health strategy.”

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Microcephaly Revives Battle for Legal Abortion in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:16:47 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143829 “Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

“Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

The Zika virus epidemic and a rise in the number of cases of microcephaly in newborns have revived the debate on legalising abortion in Brazil. However, the timing is difficult as conservative and religious groups are growing in strength, especially in parliament.

“We are issuing a call to society to hold a rational, generous debate towards a review of the law that criminalises abortion,” lawyer Silvia Pimentel told IPS.

Pimentel, one of the 23 independent experts who oversee compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defends the right to abortion in cases of “severe and irreversible birth defects”.

In Brazil, a 1940 law makes abortion illegal with two exceptions: when it is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

A third exception, in cases of anencephalic fetuses -which have no brain – was legalised in 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling based on the fact that they cannot survive outside the womb.

“This is different – microcephaly is not like anencephaly, in terms of surviving outside the womb; for the anencephalic fetus, the uterus serves as an intensive care unit; many even die before they are born,” said Clair Castilhos, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Microcephalic children, who are born with abnormally small heads, often have some degree of mental retardation, but they can survive.

“In these cases, we should discuss a woman’s right to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy, once she and her partner have been informed that their child could be born with serious difficulties,” said Castilhos, a pharmacist and biochemist who specialises in public health.

If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the right to abortion in cases of microcephaly, as women’s rights activists are seeking, “it would be a fourth exception,” she said.

“Although it wouldn’t be what we’re working for, which is the right for all women to decide whether to continue with a pregnancy, in any circumstances, rather than have an abortion as a ‘permissible crime’ in some cases,” she said in an interview with IPS.

But the approval of this “fourth exception” is unlikely.

Those opposed to making abortion legal, led by religious groups, argue that it violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life. They even protested the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of anencephalic fetuses, arguing that life begins at conception.

In their campaign over the social networks, they are now arguing that abortion of microcephalic fetuses amounts to “eugenics” or selective breeding, and compare those who defend the right to abortion in these cases to Nazis.

But Débora Diniz, a researcher at the Anis Bioethics Institute and the University of Brasilia, has argued in interviews and opinion pieces that eugenics occurs when the state intervenes in decision-making in an authoritarian manner, exercising control over women’s pregnancies, and not when the idea is for women to be free to make their own family planning decisions.

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Diniz forms part of a group of legal experts, feminists and other activists who plan to turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on abortion in the case of microcephaly, in a repeat of the process they followed in the case of anencephaly, which began in 2004 and finally led to a verdict in 2012.

On Feb. 5, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged Latin American governments to boost access to “reproductive health services,” including emergency contraception and abortion, given the spread of Zika virus in several countries of the region.

Between October – when the outbreak of microcephaly was identified as possibly linked to the Zika virus – and Jan. 30, there were 404 proven cases of microcephaly in newborns in Brazil. Another 3,670 cases are still being studied.

There have also been 76 infant deaths due to small brain size or central nervous system problems since October, but only five cases were confirmed as Zika-related while 56 are still under investigation.

Seventeen children were born with brain malformations proven to be linked to a mother’s infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

Zika virus, like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, are spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease, which makes it difficult to assess the actual number of cases.

The government does not even have estimates of the number of victims of the epidemic, and only recently gave instructions for mandatory reporting of the disease.

There were 1,649,008 cases of dengue registered by the Health Ministry in 2015, with 863 deaths, 82.5 percent more than in 2014. This virus is more widespread and more lethal, but it does not seem to have caused such alarm among Brazilians as Zika virus.

Microcephaly, which is only a threat in the case of pregnant women, has had a much bigger public impact.

Its link to Zika was established by Brazilian researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a causal relationship between the virus and microcephaly has not yet been fully established.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 1 it declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

In Brazil, only when unborn babies began to be affected was a decision reached to combat the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In late January, the government launched a campaign that mobilised 220,000 military troops and thousands of health ministry and other public employees, as well as the public at large.

Brazil will have “a generation of people who have been impaired” if the mosquito is not eliminated, said Health Minister Marcelo Castro, who has been criticised for making contradictory statements about the epidemic.

But a leading national voice on bioethics, Volnei Garrafa, complained to IPS that the government wants to hold society responsible for fighing the Aedes aegypti mosquito, without assuming its own responsibility for the lack of adequate sanitation and the “garbage and stagnant water everywhere,” which generate perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito.

He said that in the renewed debate on the right to abortion, it would be important to have a bioethics council, such as the ones that operate in Europe and in a few countries of Latin America, where abortion remains illegal except in Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City, or under extremely limited circumstances (fetal malformation, rape, risk to the mother’s life) in most other countries.

Garrafa said that with the current composition of the national Congress, where evangelical and Catholic groups have a strong influence, the approval of measures moving – even gradually – in the direction of the legalisation of abortion is nearly impossible.

“Congress is no longer ‘national’, it is an inquisition tribunal, where religious beliefs prevail,” said Castilhos.

Proposals in parliament, rather than being aimed at easing abortion law, seek to restrict the right to legal abortion in cases of rape, creating humiliating requirements for the victims that make it practically impossible for them to obtain an abortion.

“The Supreme Court has been forced to fill the legislative vacuum, at the risk of eroding democracy through the mixing up of the branches of the state, with the judiciary legislating instead of parliament,” said Garrafa.

In the past few decades, the Supreme Court has handed down rulings on complex issues such as biosafety and stem cell research, where experts in jointly evaluating biological and ethical questions would help overcome or mitigate controversies, said Garrafa, the founder of several Brazilian and Latin American bioethics institutions.

In the current political context, the Supreme Court represents the hope for progress on sexual and reproductive rights, Pimentel, Castilhos and Garrafa all told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the outbreak of microcephaly is traumatic, but it also represents an opportunity for debate on abortion and the need for universal access to sanitation, they added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Combating HIV among Teenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/combating-hiv-among-teens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-hiv-among-teens http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/combating-hiv-among-teens/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 07:39:10 +0000 Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143737 High HIV rates among teens call for interventions on a war-footing.  Credit: Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

High HIV rates among teens call for interventions on a war-footing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo
NAIROBI, Kenya / HARARE, Zimbabwe, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Keziah Juma is coming to terms with her shattered life at the shanty she shares with her family in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera slum where friends and relatives are gathered for her son’s funeral arrangements. While attending an antenatal clinic, Juma who is only 16 years discovered that she had been infected with HIV. “I went into shock and stopped going to the clinic, that is why they could not save my baby and I have been bed-ridden since giving birth two months ago,” she told IPS.

Juma’s struggle to come to terms with her HIV status and to remain healthy mirrors that of many teens in this East African nation. Kenya is one of the six countries accounting for nearly half of the world’s young people aged 15 to 19 years living with HIV. Other than India, the rest are in Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and Mozambique, according to a 2015 UNICEF report Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS.

Yet in the face of this glaring epidemic, Africa’s response has been discouraging with statistics leaving no doubt that the continent is losing the fight against HIV among its teens. Julius Mwangi, an HIV/AIDS activist in Nairobi told IPS that some countries such as Kenya seem to have chosen “to bury their heads in the sand in hopes that the problem will go away.”Despite government statistics indicating that the average age for the first sexual experience has increased from 14 to 16 years among Kenyan teens, this has done little for the country’s fight to combat HIV among its young people.

The Ministry of Health’s fast track plan to end HIV and AIDS shows that only an estimated 24 per cent of teens aged 15 to 19 years know their HIV status. Still in this age group, only about half have ever tested for HIV. Mwangi attributes the country’s high HIV rates among its teens to lack of practical interventions to address the scourge. He referred to the controversy over the Reproductive Health Bill 2014 which provided a significant loophole for young people less than 18 years to access condoms and other family planning services, but was rejected.

Judith Sijeny, a nominated Member of the Senate who sponsored the Bill, says that the proposed piece of legislation was rejected in its original form on grounds that it was encouraging sexual immorality among young people. Sijeny said in addition to providing information on HIV prevention and treatment including advocating for sexual abstinence, the Bill was also “providing a solution by encouraging safe sex.” “Statistics are providing a very clear picture that teenagers, including those living with HIV, are engaging in sexual activities,” she said.

Government statistics show that one in every five youths aged 15 to 24 had sex before the age of 16 years. A revised version of the Bill, which will constitute Kenya’s primary health law for now, states clearly that condoms and family planning pills are not to be given to those under 18 years of age.

While other African nations like Kenya have chosen to be in denial, leaving their young populations vulnerable to early deaths due to HIV, others such as Zimbabwe have vowed to take the bull by its horns. Last year, the Zimbabwean government in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the Condomise Campaign where they distributed small-sized condoms to fit 15-year olds in a bid to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. This is despite this country’s age of consent to sex pegged at the age of 16!

The Condomise Campaign may, however, have come too late for several Zimbabwean teenagers like 16-year old Yeukai Mhofu who is already living with HIV after she was raped by her late stepfather. Regrettably, Mhofu said she may already have infected her boyfriend.“I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend at school and I am afraid I might have infected him. Although I was aware of my HIV status after my rape ordeal by my late stepfather, I succumbed to pressure from my school lover after he kept pestering me for sex and I feared to disclose my status to him because I thought he would hate me,” Mhofu told IPS.

For many Zimbabwean teenagers like 15-year old Loveness Chiroto still in school, the government move to launch condoms for teenagers has left her relieved at the fresh prospect of young people like her to survive the AIDS storm. “Now with government and UNFPA taking a position that we should use condoms, I’m personally happy that as young people we have been given the alternative on how to soldier on amidst the HIV/AIDS scourge,” Chiroto told IPS.

But irked by the Condomise initiative gathering momentum, many adults have vehemently castigated the idea. “Our children need strict grooming in which they are strongly taught the hazards of engaging in premature sexual intercourse; condoms won’t help our young people because even grown-up people are contracting HIV with condoms in their pockets,” Mavis Mbiza, a Zimbabwean mother of two teenage girls
in High school, told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) legislator and parliamentary portfolio committee on health chairperson, Ruth Labode, is however at variance with many parents like Mbiza. “Is there a difference when an adult is having sex and when a teenager is having sex? If teens are sexually active, condom use for them may be a necessity, I agree because there is also need for such young persons to be protected from STIs as well,” Labode said.

The UNFPA senior technical advisor, Bidia Deperthes went on record saying this Southern African nation’s teenagers from 15 years of age needed to be catered for in the condom distribution as some of them had become sexually active.

Statistics show that 24.5 per cent of Zimbabwean women between the ages 15 to 19 are married and is proof of teenagers being sexually active, which justifies the distribution of condoms to Zimbabwe’s teenagers according to UNFPA. An official from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care speaking on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, agreed with UNFPA. “We are highly burdened with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) even amongst teens, so condoms are very important in reducing new infections of HIV and STIs,” the health official told IPS. In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, expanding the scope of several existing children’s rights and explicitly granting new ones.

The Act gave to children 12 years and older a host of rights relating to reproductive health, including access to condoms, this at a time SA’s persons aged 15–24 account for 34 per cent of all new HIV infections. In 2014, at Botswana’s Condomise Campaign launch in conjunction with UNFPA, the organisation’s representative there, Aisha Camara-Drammeh emphasised that condoms were equally crucial for the African nation’s teenagers. “This is an exciting and yet a very crucial moment for us as UNFPA and our stakeholders – including the Ministry of Health, UNAIDS and indeed the young people themselves – to be witnessing the inauguration of this campaign in Botswana. Ensuring access to condoms is a prerequisite for the Sexual and Reproductive Health of young persons,” Drammeh had said then.

According to the UNFPA then, Botswana’s young people were faced with numerous challenges which included high-risk sexual behaviour leading to high teenage unwanted pregnancies, high incidences of HIV infections, low comprehensive knowledge on SRH and HIV and limited access to SRH services and commodities. With condoms use rife amongst Botswana’s young people, the country is witnessing declines on new HIV infections, with the 15–24 year olds’ HIV incidence declining by 25 per cent, according to UNFPA. Even further up in Malawi, in 2013, government there moved in to launch the first-ever national HIV/AIDS prevention drive through a Condomise Campaign seeking to promote and increase condom use among teenagers there.

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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143683

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women

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Mother-to-Child AIDS Transmission Dealt a Blow in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mother-to-child-aids-transmission-dealt-a-blow-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mother-to-child-aids-transmission-dealt-a-blow-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mother-to-child-aids-transmission-dealt-a-blow-in-zimbabwe/#comments Tue, 01 Dec 2015 10:38:51 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143168 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mother-to-child-aids-transmission-dealt-a-blow-in-zimbabwe/feed/ 0 Opinion: Ending Child Marriage – What Difference Can a Summit Make?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/opinion-ending-child-marriage-what-difference-can-a-summit-make/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-ending-child-marriage-what-difference-can-a-summit-make http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/opinion-ending-child-marriage-what-difference-can-a-summit-make/#comments Thu, 26 Nov 2015 23:08:31 +0000 Samuel Musyoki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143130

Samuel Musyoki is currently the Country Director of Plan International Zambia and the Chair for 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Southern Africa Programme.

By Samuel Musyoki
LUSAKA, Zambia, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

The long-awaited African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage is here.

It presents an opportunity to share experiences and reflect on what we need to do differently if we want to step up our efforts towards ending child marriage, an issue close to my heart.

I’ve seen what being a child bride can do to a girl.

I have five sisters, three of whom were married as children. As such, my sisters did not get a good education. They gave birth at an early age and now they are faced with challenges and limited opportunities. Now I am a father to three girls. I want a different life for them and for all the other girls growing up across Africa – and the rest of the world.

The summit, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Zambia, is taking place in Lusaka this week. It follows the launch at the May 2014 Africa Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa of the campaign to end early and forced child marriage.

Both the campaign and summit are significant for a continent, home to an estimated 7 million child brides.

While we have made good progress working in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and national levels to influence policy and legal changes, more needs to be done at the grassroots level.

Long-term engagement with communities is key if we want to end child marriage across Africa.

Child rights organisation Plan International is dedicated to tackling child marriage and we’ve learnt time and time again, the perception of this issue is almost universally negative.

Yet why does it still happen?

Marriage for a 14 year old girl should not be seen as the only option for parents or for children. That’s fundamentally flawed.

If we want to make a difference, we need to look at how governments and civil society can change with communities to help them realise the impact of child marriage. We need to work with girls to help them understand the value of education and the benefits of the life they can have if they stay in school. But transforming attitudes and practices that have become acceptable over time requires investment in innovative approaches that draw on and build on the knowledge of all relevant actors at policy and grassroots levels.

Plan International has been working against child marriages alongside community-based organisations, regional traditional leaders, media and national governments. By creating local and regional platforms to raise awareness, to discuss and to take action, the pressure is building up to eliminate early child marriage in Africa.

Focusing on Southern Africa, Plan International´s “18+ Programme” on ending child marriages in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique has been engaging with and transforming communities and societies. It contributed significantly to convince the Malawian Parliament, which recently passed a law to declare 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.

Now, more than ever, is the time to bring all actors together and tackle the issue of early child marriage across the continent. After all, we can neither keep the promise of the African Children’s Charter, nor attain the new Sustainable Development Goals if young girls and women continue to suffer early child marriage.

Progress is being made and it’s heartening to seeing discussions taking place across the board. It gives us hope that it is possible to end child marriage within a generation.

(End)

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Open Defecation to End by 2025, Vows UN Chief, Marking World Toilet Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/open-defecation-to-end-by-2025-vows-un-chief-marking-world-toilet-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=open-defecation-to-end-by-2025-vows-un-chief-marking-world-toilet-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/open-defecation-to-end-by-2025-vows-un-chief-marking-world-toilet-day/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:39:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143059 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

The state of the world’s toilets reveals the good, the bad and the ugly – but not necessarily in that order.

As the UN commemorated its annual World Toilet Day on November 19, a new study says, contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the rich nations of the developed world has access to a toilet.

The study, released by the UK based WaterAid, points out that Canada, UK, Ireland and Sweden are among nations with measurable numbers still without safe, private household toilets.

Russia has the lowest percentage of household toilets of all developed nations, while India, the world’s second-most populous country, holds the record for the most people waiting for sanitation (774 million) and the most people per square kilometre (173) practising open defecation.

The report highlights the plight of more than 2.3 billion people in the world (out of a total population of over 7.3 billion) who do not have access to a safe, private toilet.

Of these, nearly 1.0 billion have no choice but to defecate in the open – in fields, at roadsides or in bushes.

The result is a polluted environment in which diseases spread fast. An estimated 314,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal illness which could be prevented with safe water, good sanitation and good hygiene.

Still, the tiny South Pacific island of Tokelau has made the most progress on delivering sanitation, holding number one position since 1990, followed by Vietnam, Nepal and Pakistan.

Nigeria has seen a dramatic slide in the number of people with access to toilets since 1990 despite considerable economic development.

The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, has the worst household access to sanitation in the world, followed closely by Niger, Togo and Madagascar, according to the study.

WaterAid’s Chief Executive Barbara Frost says just two months ago, all UN member states promised to deliver access to safe, private toilets to everyone everywhere by 2030.

“Our analysis shows just how many nations in the world are failing to give sanitation the political prioritisation and financing required. We also know that swift progress is possible, from the impressive advances in sanitation achieved in nations like Nepal and Vietnam.”

No matter where you are in the world, everyone has a right to a safe, private place to relieve themselves, and to live healthy and productive lives without the threat of illness from poor sanitation and hygiene.

“On this World Toilet Day, it’s time for the world to make good on their promises and understand that while we all love toilet humour, the state of the world’s sanitation is no joke,” said Frost.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF says lack of sanitation, and particularly open defecation, contributes to the incidence of diarrhoea and to the spread of intestinal parasites, which in turn cause malnutrition.

“We need to bring concrete and innovative solutions to the problem of where people go to the toilet, otherwise we are failing millions of our poorest and most vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The proven link with malnutrition is one more thread that reinforces how interconnected our responses to sanitation have to be if we are to succeed.”

In a report released Wednesday, the 21-member UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), calls for the mainstreaming of sanitation.

The focus should widen beyond the home – because toilets are needed in schools, clinics, workplaces, markets and other public places.

“Prioritize sanitation as preventive medicine and break the vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, especially affecting women and children.”

And “get serious about scaling up innovative technologies along the sanitation chain and unleash another sanitation revolution, as key economic and medical enabler in the run-up to 2030, and make a business case for sanitation by realizing the resource potential of human waste.”

Additionally, it says, “de-taboo the topic of menstrual hygiene management, which deserves to be addressed as a priority by the UN and governments.”

In its report, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to fund, implement and account for progress towards the new UN Global Goals on sustainable development.

Goal 6 – water, sanitation and hygiene for all – is fundamental to ending hunger and ensuring healthy lives, education and gender equality and must be a priority.

“Improving the state of the world’s toilets with political prioritisation and long-term increases in financing for water, sanitation and hygiene, by both national governments and donor countries like the UK.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the central role sanitation plays in sustainable development.

“The integrated nature of the new agenda means that we need to better understand the connections between the building blocks of development.”

In that spirit, he said, this year’s observance of World Toilet Day focuses on the vicious cycle connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition. He said poor sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of disease and malnutrition.

Each year, too many children under the age of five have their lives cut short or altered forever as a result of poor sanitation: more than 800,000 children worldwide — or one every two minutes– die from diarrhea, and almost half of all deaths of children under five are due to undernutrition.

A quarter of all children under five are stunted, and countless other children, as well as adults, are falling seriously ill, often suffering long-term, even lifelong, health and developmental consequences.

Parents and guardians carry the cost of these consequences. Women in particular women bear the direct brunt, he noted.

“Despite the compelling moral and economic case for action on sanitation, progress is too little and too slow,” Ban complained.

By many accounts, sanitation is the most-missed target of the Millennium Development Goals.

“This is why the Call to Action on Sanitation was launched in 2013, and why we aim to end open defecation by 2025,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: From Despair to Hope – Fulfilling a Promise to Mothers and Children in Mandera Countyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/opinion-from-despair-to-hope-fulfilling-a-promise-to-mothers-and-children-in-mandera-county/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-despair-to-hope-fulfilling-a-promise-to-mothers-and-children-in-mandera-county http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/opinion-from-despair-to-hope-fulfilling-a-promise-to-mothers-and-children-in-mandera-county/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 23:04:48 +0000 Ruth2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142952 Ruth Kagia is a Senior Adviser in the Office of the President of Kenya. Follow her on twitter:@ruthkagia. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1]]> The First Lady of Kenya, Governor Ali Roba and the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Osotimehin, in Mandera County.  Credit: UNDP Kenya

The First Lady of Kenya, Governor Ali Roba and the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Osotimehin, in Mandera County. Credit: UNDP Kenya

By Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 9 2015 (IPS)

Mandera in northeastern Kenya, has often been described as “the worst place on earth to give birth.” Mandera’s maternal mortality ratio stands at 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, almost double that of wartime Sierra Leone at 2,000 deaths per 100,000 live births.

But Mandera also demonstrates what can be achieved with strong political leadership and strategic partnerships. Just under a year ago, on December 2, 2014, we were part of a team from the United Nations, World Bank, charities and the Office of the President of Kenya that undertook the two-hour flight to Mandera to determine what could be done to address this critical development bottleneck.

Minutes before take-off, news came through that 36 Kenyans had been brutally murdered in Mandera by the Somali militant group al Shabaab.

No official briefing could have better highlighted the challenges of the task ahead. Rather than acting as a deterrent, it strengthened our resolve and we continued with our journey.

Marginalization combined with internecine conflicts, pockets of extremism, poor human development and cross border terrorism have trapped so many of Mandera’s people in poverty and misery. In addition, women and girls are subjected to cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, which contribute to high school dropouts and complicate delivery.

The government has been focused in its resolve to change the narrative in Mandera and in other historically disadvantaged parts of Kenya. The introduction of free maternity services, for example, has increased the number of Kenyan women giving birth under skilled care from about 40 to 60 per cent since 2013.

Together with the government, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Kenya mobilised private sector partners to develop innovative strategies to improve maternal and child health, especially in the six counties with the highest maternal and child health burden: Lamu, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit and Migori.

On October 13, we launched a Community Life Centre in Mandera with the technology company Philips. The centre, equipped with solar lighting, fridges, lab and diagnostic equipment, will provide better healthcare services for about 25,000 people.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin has given a very clear message that UNFPA must help the hard to reach and the most vulnerable. With this resolve, UNFPA, together with the World Bank, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, supported by the Ministry of Health, mobilized 15 million dollars to improve maternal, child and adolescent health services in the six counties in March 2015.

These efforts were given a major boost on November 6, 2015, when Kenya’s First Lady H.E. Margaret Kenyatta handed over a fully-kitted mobile clinic to Mandera. The First Lady launched the Beyond Zero campaign in 2014 to reduce maternal and child mortality in Kenya.

Dr. Osotimehin flew in from New York for the event, and was joined by the ambassadors of the European Union, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The First Lady said: “For too long, the prospect of childbirth in Kenya, to thousands of women, has been tantamount to a death sentence. No one should die giving life.”

Dr Osotimehin said: ‘‘When we invest in strengthening the health system from the community to the facility, when we invest in strong referral systems and complementary basic services, we save women’s lives but we also underwrite our future as humanity.”

Maternal health is a perfect illustration of the fact that the process of development is multi-dimensional. Poor maternal health affects women, their children and their communities. It affects nutrition, human development, population dynamics and it undermines the quality of the labour force.

When you improve maternal health, you create healthy families, strong communities and strong economies.

Like the tentative steps of an infant beginning to walk, these may seem modest achievements in the face of the significant challenges in these remote counties. The counties require structural changes which can lead women out of poverty, eliminate gender inequalities and build stronger health systems.

The partners’ grit and the commitment demonstrated by the government together with leaders like the First Lady and Mandera County Governor Ali Roba give reason for optimism that these challenges can be overcome.

Improving maternal health is not only achievable, it is a goal worth reaching.

(End)

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Opinion: Integrating Water, Sanitation and Health are Key to the Promise of the UN Global Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-integrating-water-sanitation-and-health-are-key-to-the-promise-of-the-un-global-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-integrating-water-sanitation-and-health-are-key-to-the-promise-of-the-un-global-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-integrating-water-sanitation-and-health-are-key-to-the-promise-of-the-un-global-goals/#comments Fri, 30 Oct 2015 22:46:44 +0000 Princess Sarah Zeid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142857

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global advocate for maternal, child and newborn health in fragile and humanitarian settings.

By H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid
AMMAN, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted an ambitious 15-year sustainable development agenda, the 2030 Global Goals.

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

To understand the impact these Global Goals must have on our world, I need only remember my summer visit to a school in Basra, in southern Iraq.

To enter through the school gates, I had to negotiate a fetid stream of sewage, broken glass and garbage. The condition of the school building itself was terrible, and even worse were the bathrooms. You could see their appalling state because they had no doors, and thus, zero privacy. All this in a place where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) – it was so hot I felt as if my cheeks were frying.

I look back at this now through the eyes of a mother, and my horror is all the greater. No girl could go to this school, because no girl could go to the bathroom. No child could safely attend this school, because no child could do so without being exposed to disease.

With daughters denied education, confined to home and sons locked in a cycle of exposure to ill health, how can we expect women to participate in commerce, politics, peace and sustainability? How do we think the next generation is going to be educated, skilled and healthy enough to make a positive contribution?

The solutions to women’s and children’s dignity, health and wellbeing lie well beyond the health sector alone, and demand instead an integrated approach, including solutions that deliver water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health and in education.

No one’s needs divide neatly into our professional sectors, and sustainable wellbeing and prosperity will not come from fragmented interventions. A holistic approach spanning across all these domains is urgently needed.

The linkages between WASH, health, education and nutrition for that matter are stark. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, more than half the cases of measles in the country are caused by lack of clean water, and poor WASH conditions are a leading cause of malnutrition.

Illness and death in childbirth, and in maternal and child health, are not only the result of the lack of access to quality medical care, nursing or pharmaceuticals. They also happen because nearly 40 per cent of health facilities worldwide have no source of water.

In low-income countries – where preventable mortality is at its highest – an estimated 50 per cent of health care facilities lack access to the electricity they need to boil water and sterilize instruments.

WASH also helps promote gender equality. If water, sanitation and hygiene are designed so that the practical burdens women carry daily are reduced, they will be able to play broader and more creative roles in their community’s development, paving the way towards equitable development in countries and globally. Everyone benefits from these contributions.

There is recognition of the importance of joining up. Last autumn, 16 researchers from the World Health Organization, Unicef, WaterAid and others came together to call for action on joining water, sanitation and hygiene to efforts on maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization has launched an action plan to address the need for water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities.

This new sustainable development agenda and, quite frankly, the state of the world today, demands of us another dimension of this integration, too: an integration of our development and humanitarian efforts.

The renewed Every Women Every Child Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health is working to make this happen. Headed by the Office of the UN Secretary General and supported by a global movement of governments, philanthropic institutions, multi-lateral organizations, civil society organizations, the business community and academics, the renewed Strategy gives new priority to humanitarian and fragile settings and pledges the needed integration to save more lives as life is given.

After all, the right to live life in dignity, the rights to health and to water and sanitation are human rights, universal and indivisible. They are rights to be upheld even in the toughest of situations and at the hardest of times. However, without joined-up pipelines of delivery to enable that flow of human dignity for everyone, everywhere, the promise of the Global Goals will just drain away.

(End)

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Kenya: Transforming Mandera County’s Deadly Reputation for Maternal Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/kenya-transforming-mandera-countys-deadly-reputation-for-maternal-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-transforming-mandera-countys-deadly-reputation-for-maternal-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/kenya-transforming-mandera-countys-deadly-reputation-for-maternal-health/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 06:31:04 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142727 @sidchat1) is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Photo Credit: @islamicrelief

Photo Credit: @islamicrelief

By Siddharth Chatterjee
Mandera County, Kenya, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

For many women in Mandera County – a hard to reach, insecure and arid part of North Eastern Kenya – the story of life from childhood to adulthood is one about sheer pain and struggle for survival.

As little girls, they undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful carving out of the external genitalia that leaves them with lifelong physical and psychological scars.

Most girls will be married off when barely into their teens, forcing them to drop out of school, their immature bodies thrust into the world of childbearing.

As a result, Mandera – just a two-hour flight from the dynamic, modern East African hub of Nairobi – has maternal mortality ratio of 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate that surpasses that of wartime Sierra Leone (2000 deaths per 100,000 live births) and far above Kenya’s national average (448 deaths per 100,000 live births).

Mandera is an example of a marginalized community rife with internecine conflicts, pockets of extremism, poor human development and cross border terrorism, where residents are trapped in poverty, misery and desperation. Cultural norms like status of the women, FGM and child marriage makes it worse. Among the poor, inequities hurt women and girls most.

However, things are looking up. Kenya’s decision to devolve government, putting much more power in the hands of local authorities, is having an impact on the ground. Indicators such as number of health facilities offering basic maternal and child health, and the number of women giving birth in a health facility, are improving.

Just as critical to these improvements is the recently established private sector’s coalition to transform the health landscape of this county, long considered a lost frontier. The goal of this coalition is to develop new products and service delivery models, like community life centers (CLCs) to improve maternal and new-born health among most vulnerable populations in Kenya.

An inter-agency team consisting of the Office of the President of Kenya, Ministry of Health, Kenya Red Cross, UNOCHA, Save the Children, technology company Philips, Amref, Safaricom, GlaxoSmithKlein and UNFPA, visited Mandera on 13 October 2015 with the ambassadors of Turkey and Sweden to Kenya, to launch a Ministry of Health-UNFPA–Philips innovation partnership.

The UNFPA and Philips CLC project is expected to bring quality primary healthcare within reach of about 25,000 people through small improvements that enhance the functionality of health facilities like 24-hour lighting that will allow facility deliveries to take place and sick children attended after dark. If successful, this initiative could be scaled-up and transform maternal and child health in Mandera county.

Mandera has long remained out of bounds for most international UN staff and diplomats due to insecurity. Hopefully the visit by the Turkish and Swedish ambassadors , who are ardent advocates of the rights of women and children, will pave the way for more visits to all the country’s North Eastern counties which face similar challenges.

The ambassadors spoke of their countries’ commitment to work with the county to change the narrative, especially to advance the rights and wellbeing of all women and girls.

The broader partnership, which also includes Huawei, Kenya Health Care Federation and MSD, together with the United Nations’s H4+ partners, will focus on the six counties with a high burden of maternal mortality: Wajir, Marsaibit, Lamu, Isiolo, Migori and Mandera.

The main activities in these six counties will include strengthening supply chain management for health commodities, increasing availability and demand for youth-friendly health services, capacity building for health professionals, youth empowerment and research. These activities be complemented by the results-based financing supported through the Health Results Innovation Trust Fund managed by the World Bank.

It is also in line with the full-scale Kenyan government commitment to reduce maternal deaths and the new polices of free maternity care and user fee removal.

Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta once remarked that “I am deeply saddened by the fact that women and children in our country die from causes that can be avoided. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is why I am launching the ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’ which will bring prenatal and postnatal medical treatment to women and children in our country.”

The dividend from healthier women will be a more educated and healthy society, with more economic opportunities and reduced exclusion which will engender peace and hopefully reduce the drivers of violent extremism.

It will be a major score for Mandera towards fulfilling the vision of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which is about empowerment and participation of women, ending discrimination and the scourge of harmful traditional practices like FGM and child marriage.

(End)

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Youngster Uses Technology to Fight Teen Pregnancy in Honduran Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/youngster-uses-technology-to-fight-teen-pregnancy-in-honduran-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youngster-uses-technology-to-fight-teen-pregnancy-in-honduran-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/youngster-uses-technology-to-fight-teen-pregnancy-in-honduran-village/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2015 22:53:28 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142698 Cinthia Padilla, the 16-year-old who has revolutionised the village of Plan Grande on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where she teaches local residents to use basic computer programmes and is using an Internet platform to help prevent teen pregnancy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Cinthia Padilla, the 16-year-old who has revolutionised the village of Plan Grande on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where she teaches local residents to use basic computer programmes and is using an Internet platform to help prevent teen pregnancy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 14 2015 (IPS)

Four years ago, Cinthia Padilla, who is now 16, learned how to use a computer in order to teach children, adolescents and adults in this isolated fishing village in northern Honduras how to use technology to better their lives.

Now she is using her expertise in an online e-learning platform aimed at reducing teen pregnancies in her remote village and neighbouring communities.

Her father, Óscar Padilla, is the community leader who radically changed life in Plan Grande by bringing it round-the-clock hydroelectricity, as well as a project for the conservation and protection of the Matías River basin. His daughter learned a great deal accompanying him to village meetings from an early age.

“My dad would tell me: ‘Stay home little girl! What are you doing here?’” she told IPS. “But I would ignore him because I liked listening to the adults. That’s how I learned, with a computer project that came to the village, and today I teach kids and adults in my free time how to use programmes like Word, Excel and others that help them in their work and studies.“I’m in fourth grade and I like this idea because we’re going to learn by using games, and girls won’t get pregnant or fall in love so young,” Javier Alexander Ramos, eight years old

“I started out with a used computer that a businesswoman from the capital gave me four years ago. So far I have trained more than 60 kids and a number of adults. It hasn’t been easy, because who was going to believe in a girl?” said a smiling Cinthia, who is in the first year of secondary school.

Thanks to the skills of this young girl who dreams of becoming a systems engineer to help her community develop and use technology to protect the environment, the 500 inhabitants of Plan Grande discovered the advantages offered by the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Thanks to what they have learned from Cinthia, local fisherpersons have improved their financial skills when selling their catch and purchasing products.

She also launched the e-learning platform to raise awareness among and educate adolescents to prevent teen pregnancy, with the support of the Sustainable Development Network, a civil society organisation that boosts technology use in communities in this impoverished Central American nation of 8.8 million people.

The success of the initiative drew the interest of Noel Ruíz, the mayor of the municipality of Santa Fe, where Plan Grande is located, and of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

With a 50,000 dollar grant from the SGP, the e-learning project will be expanded throughout the entire municipality of Santa Fe and the neighbouring Balfate, starting in 2016. The users will be students and teachers.

In Plan Grande, which is operating as a pilot programme for the platform, the schoolteachers are enthusiastic about the project because teen pregnancy is frequent in this region inhabited mainly by members of the Garifuna ethnic group – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe.

The National Assembly of Afro-Honduran Organisations and Communities estimates that 10 percent of the country’s population is black.

“This will open kids’ minds and help them not make the mistake of getting pregnant due to a lack of sex education,” Julissa Esther Pacheco, the teacher in Punta Frijol, a hamlet next to Plan Grande, told IPS.

“They have taught us how to use it, even though we don’t have Internet, with interactive educational programmes created to help youngsters learn about their bodies,” she said.

In Punta Frijol, just over three km from the centre of Plan Grande, Pacheco teaches 22 children in grades one through six in the rural schoolhouse. She divides the children by grade and teaches some while the others do homework.

Students in the hamlet of Punta Frijol on the northern coast of Honduras welcome this IPS reporter visiting this remote area to learn about their e-learning programme aimed at bringing down the teen pregnancy rate. The teacher at the one-room rural schoolhouse, Julissa Esther Pacheco, is behind the group of children, to the right. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students in the hamlet of Punta Frijol on the northern coast of Honduras welcome this IPS reporter visiting this remote area to learn about their e-learning programme aimed at bringing down the teen pregnancy rate. The teacher at the one-room rural schoolhouse, Julissa Esther Pacheco, is behind the group of children, to the right. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Pacheco says the children have been very open to the programme “and are motivated because they know life isn’t all peaches and cream.”

Eight-year-old Javier Alexander Ramos told IPS: “I’m in fourth grade and I like this idea because we’re going to learn by using games, and girls won’t get pregnant or fall in love so young.”

His remarks drew laughter from his fellow students and the parents who had gathered at the school to tell IPS about their expectations for the project, in a demonstration of the importance that local residents put on telling their story, and of their support for the initiative.

Javier said he dreams of a country that is “better educated, in peace and safe, like Plan Grande. I would like to be a congressman when I grow up, to help in so many ways here, and that’s why I like to study. I enjoy learning how to use the computer because although we don’t have our own computers we learn with the ones in the school, which we all share.”

Because of Plan Grande’s location, some 400 km from the capital of Honduras on the Caribbean coast, and only reachable by boat, there are few educational opportunities and locals depend on fishing and subsistence agriculture for a living, while some move away or find seasonal work elsewhere.

Teen pregnancy is frequent in the municipality of Santa Fe, which includes three villages and nine hamlets.

According to Health Ministry and United Nations figures, Honduras has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America: one out of four adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 have given birth.

The birth rate is 108 per 1,000 teenagers in that age group, according to official statistics.

To support the transformation that Cinthia has begun to bring about, Santa Fe Mayor Ruíz came to Plan Grande in September to lay the first stone in what will be a computer lab for the e-learning platform, set to open in January 2016.

“These are very neglected communities, but what they are doing in Plan Grande deserves support; the computer lab will have Internet and other appropriate technologies because we want adolescent girls to one day say: today I’m ready to be a mother,” he told IPS.

Cinthia broke in to say: “Young people here are losing their fear of expressing ourselves, and with this platform we’re going to teach them how to take care of themselves, and how to use the social networks.

“When the SGP proposed this idea, I was the first to say yes because they helped us before to bring electricity, they taught us the importance of nature, and now they’re going to help us educate people so our dreams as young people aren’t cut short at such a young age,” she said.

This remote village of poor fishing families on Honduras’ Caribbean coast has become a national reference point for community-run, clean self-sustainable energy.

And now they want to become an example to be followed in the prevention of teen pregnancy, led by a 16-year-old girl who has also launched a campaign for donations to her village of computers, whether new or used – because she has learned how to fix them as well.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: International Day of the Girl Must Start with Good Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-international-day-of-the-girl-must-start-with-good-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-international-day-of-the-girl-must-start-with-good-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-international-day-of-the-girl-must-start-with-good-laws/#comments Mon, 12 Oct 2015 09:57:11 +0000 Shelby Quast http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142671

Shelby Quast is Director, Americas Office for Equality Now.

By Shelby Quast
NEW YORK, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

Everyday should be about girls, but yesterday, October 11, was dedicated especially to them. International Day of the Girl is yet another opportunity to put girls at center stage.

For many girls, their childhood and adolescent years are shaped by harmful experiences such as sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex trafficking.

Understanding that a lack of support systems can leave girls without the means to speak out against abuses and seek help, Equality Now’s #JusticeForGirls program uses strategic litigation and related advocacy to ensure a level playing field for girls – particularly during their critical adolescent years.

This year, Equality Now announced an exciting new additional component to this initiative. The GENEROSITY of GIRLS Fund supports programmes that directly impact the lives of girls. Initial recipients are partner organizations that work on the front lines with adolescent girls: Safe Hands for Girls in the U.S., The Girl Child Network in Uganda and the Rural Education & Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP) in Kenya.

Founded by FGM survivor Jaha Dukureh, Safe Hands for Girls supports and empowers girls at risk of FGM by providing culturally appropriate support groups, economically empowering girls and supporting their goals for higher education. The Girl Child Network in Kampala, Uganda, empowers girls to develop their own curricula for more than 20 after-school clubs.

With support from the GENEROSITY of GIRS Fund, The Girl Child Network has the opportunity to empower 500 girls. The REEP initiative empowers girls in Busia County, Kenya, where Equality Now recently supported a sexual violence case and brought 70 similar cases to the attention of local law enforcement. With support from the fund, REEP will reach 1,000 girls.

Ensuring that strong laws and access to justice is the first step towards making gender equality a reality. Yet many countries, such as Liberia and Mali, have yet to put in place laws which ban FGM, a severe form of violence that is likely to affect up to 30 million girls over the coming decade.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be born a girl in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, you still have no legislative protection against child marriage. Other countries have laws against such abuses but fail to implement them.

In Saudi Arabia, we worked with Fatima, a 12-year-old married to a 50-year-old man with a wife and 10 children. Her father received the equivalent of US$10,000 for her, which he spent on a car. Fatima’s husband gave her a PlayStation for her wedding gift. We worked with a Saudi lawyer to help Fatima and the resulting publicity helped put pressure on her husband, who finally consented to a divorce.

Sexual violence continues to be an epidemic in every country in the world. Awareness has increased over the past 15 years but enforcing the rule of law continues to be a problem for most governments. The law provides a framework that determines a person’s worth.

In Morocco, Amina Filali was raped when she was sixteen. But a loophole in the law exempted rapists from punishment if they marry their victims. Instead of punishing rapists, judges forced girls to marry them.

Amina could not bear a lifetime of being raped, so she took her own life swallowing rat poison. Other girls have done the same. We campaigned very actively with Moroccan groups to change the law. While the change came too late for Amina, it can hopefully protect other girls.

And this is not just an issue for the economically developing world. Half a million women and girls in the US have undergone, or are at risk of undergoing, FGM. In fact, no country has reached gender equality.

But things have at least started to change. Twenty years ago, FGM was seen as a cultural practice, but it is now widely recognized as violence and as a violation of human rights. There are now laws banning it in the majority of those countries where it is most prevalent. Two decades ago, the media did not really cover violence against girls as an issue, but that is changing by the day.

The sexual violence epidemic against girls around the world is no longer a hidden issue and almost two million people signed a petition to ensure #JusticeForLiz, a 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped and left for dead in Kenya, which led to the arrest and conviction of the rapists.

At a global level, the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals include women and girls throughout the agenda. We now need to ensure that progress toward achieving these goals, such as ending FGM and child marriage, are implemented and measured wherever women and girls are affected – not just in select countries.

October 11 was for all of the world’s girls, but the benefits are much more extensive. If every girl is valued and given the same opportunities as boys; if she is free from all forms of violence and discrimination, amazing things can happen – not only for the girl whose life is changed forever but for her the community and the whole world which becomes safer, happier and more balanced.

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Pakistan Initiative Seeks to Improve Maternal-Child Care in Rural Areashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/pakistan-initiative-seeks-to-improve-maternal-child-care-in-rural-areas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-initiative-seeks-to-improve-maternal-child-care-in-rural-areas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/pakistan-initiative-seeks-to-improve-maternal-child-care-in-rural-areas/#comments Sun, 11 Oct 2015 19:27:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142668 A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 11 2015 (IPS)

“We are extremely happy over the government’s initiative to give money to the pregnant women and enable them to seek proper treatment,” said Sharif Ahmed at a basic health unit (BHU), near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

Ahmed said he had brought her his wife to undergo ultrasound and other pregnancy-related investigations at the BHU and preempt any complications.

“My wife has already experienced miscarriage of a pregnancy two years ago due to lack of lack of tests. I didn’t have money to pay for medical examinations of my wife which resulted in miscarriage,” he told IPS.

Ahmed, a wage worker, is beneficiary of the scheme launched by the provincial government to cut maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by offering the equivalent of US$ 10 to each of the pregnant women per visit to the hospital.

It is the family’s second visit to this BHU. “We have got $20 so far. The money we received has been paid on transportation charges to reach this hospital. Without this, our visit couldn’t have been possible,” he said.

The KP is one four Pakistani provinces to start such a program. The World Health Organization’s Dr Kashif Ahmed told IPS that the province has 29 per cent literacy rate, lower than rest of the country, and accordingly many people aren’t aware of pregnancy-related problems or are too shy to be seen by doctors.

Pakistan ranks third in the world with an estimated 275 out of 100,000 number of maternal deaths, behind only India and Nigeria, he said.

“At present only 50 per cent of women in the province receive any form of ante-natal care and only 25 per cent are receiving any form of post-natal care from a trained birth attendant,” he said.

The KP government hopes that the $10 payments to pregnant women for each visit to public hospitals will encourage women to undergo at least three check-ups before birth and two after birth, for which they get a total amount of $50, with the aim of reducing maternal deaths from delivery-related complications.

Another challenge is that women in this male-dominated society are also not readily coming to hospitals because they want to be seen by women doctors and there is an extreme shortage of them, as well as of nurses.

KP’s director-general for health, Dr Pervez Kamal, told IPS that the majority of the province’s 2.2 million people live in remote rural areas and thereby have difficulty in accessing primary healthcare facilities. It is hoped that providing cash payments will enable them to hire transport and reach the hospitals, he said.

“We have also put the place the services of 500 women doctors or Lady Health Workers (LHWs) in all the 1,680 rural health centres in the province to encourage the women to come there and get examined by females,” said Kamal. Thousands of LHWs have been deployed at the community level to provide vaccination besides free check-ups to the childbearing women, he said.

“As of January 2015, a total of 5,678 women have benefited from the scheme and we are hopeful that we can reduce pregnancy-related deaths in the province,” he said.

Dr Kamal said that the government has also been campaigning aggressively through radio and television advertisements to inform the people about the incentives to the pregnant mothers so more people could avail the opportunities and preempt complications.

Professor Shamim Akhtar, a gynecologist at the district headquarters hospital in Mardan, one of the KP’s 26 districts, says the government’s initiative has been been having a positive impact. “We have recorded a 50 per cent increase in visits of the pregnant women at the outpatients department of the hospital because of the money provided by the government,” she says.

The women who are getting the money and free treatment are also communicating to their relatives and neighbours about the facilities, which has resulted in people have started coming to hospitals in droves, she says.

One pregnant patient at the Mardan facility, 20-year-old Jehan Bibi, told IPS that she had been informed by a woman in her neighborhood about free treatment and money that she would get if she want to the hospital. “I have given birth to a son two years ago but I faced lot of problems because of home-based delivery. I have no money to visit the doctors then. But now the situation is different and I will get a total of $50 which is enough to visit the hospital and pay for transportation cost,” said Bibi as she underwent ultra sonography.

“During my earlier pregnancy, my family didn’t allow me to venture out of home and get examined by male doctor which caused complications. Now, my family is also happy that I am getting examination by female doctors and my in-laws have no objection,” she said.

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Latin America to Adopt SDGs, Still Lagging on Some MDGshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-america-to-adopt-sdgs-still-lagging-on-some-mdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-adopt-sdgs-still-lagging-on-some-mdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-america-to-adopt-sdgs-still-lagging-on-some-mdgs/#comments Wed, 23 Sep 2015 23:23:41 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142464 Maternal care during the pregnancy, birth and post-partum period is essential to reduce the high maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Credit: Courtesy of the Tigre municipal government

Maternal care during the pregnancy, birth and post-partum period is essential to reduce the high maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Credit: Courtesy of the Tigre municipal government

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

In the last 15 years, Latin America and the Caribbean have met several key targets included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), such as reducing extreme poverty, hunger and child mortality, incorporating more girls in the educational system, and expanding access to clean water.

However, as the world is setting out on a new challenge, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the roadmap from here to 2030 – the region must make a bigger effort to fight, for example, maternal mortality and teen pregnancy, two of its biggest failures with regard to the MDGs, partly due to a patriarchal, sexist culture.

“We don’t have to wait for an analysis of the MDGs to understand that the region is lagging in these areas,” Chilean Dr. Ramiro Molina, founder of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Adolescent Development, told IPS.

“The spending needed on sexual and reproductive health is low,” he added. “It hasn’t been clearly understood that it is absolutely indispensable to invest more in this area.”

The eight MDGs, approved in September 2000 by 189 heads of state and government at a United Nations summit, were aimed at addressing development deficits in the first 15 years of the new millennium.

And on Sunday Sept. 27, at another summit in New York, leaders from around the world will approve the post-2015 sustainable development framework, which includes 17 SDGs that make up what is now called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With these new goals, the international community will continue to fight inequality and work towards sustainable and inclusive development.

“Latin America and the Caribbean: looking ahead after the Millennium Development Goals”, a regional monitoring report published this month by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), says the region has met the goal for reducing extreme poverty and hunger.

Between 1990 and 2015, this region more than cut in half the proportion of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day: from 12.6 percent in 1990 to 4.6 percent in 2011.

The proportion of hungry people, meanwhile, was slashed from 14.7 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 5.5 percent in 2014-2016.

In addition, employment statistics are better today than at any other point in the last 20 years; access to and completion of primary education have increased; and the illiteracy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds fell from 6.9 percent in 1990 to 1.7 percent in 2015.

The region has also made significant progress in girls’ access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, and has narrowed the gender gap in politics.

But these advances stand in contrast to the lack of progress in other areas, especially with regard to MDG 5: reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health.

The ECLAC report stresses that in 2013 the overall maternal mortality rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was 85 deaths per 100,000 live births, representing a 39 percent reduction with respect to 1990 – far from the 75 percent drop called for by the MDGs.

Adolescent pregnancy also remains a pressing problem in the region, with a live birth rate of 75.5 per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19.

Miriam Toaquiza and her daughter Jennifer in a hospital in Latacunga, Ecuador. She is the only girl in a special room for teenage mothers, thanks to public policies fighting the phenomenon. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

Miriam Toaquiza and her daughter Jennifer in a hospital in Latacunga, Ecuador. She is the only girl in a special room for teenage mothers, thanks to public policies fighting the phenomenon. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

“Adolescence, their development and fertility are based on ignorance in our countries,” said Molina.

Tamara, now 23, is an illustration of this. When she was 13, her 27-year-old boyfriend got her pregnant.

The unexpected pregnancy forced her to drop out of school, although she was later able to complete her primary education. She never went to high school. Three years later she had her second son, with the same father.

“I missed out on several things: of course, support from my mother and my father, but above all, sex education,” the young woman, who preferred not to give her last name, told IPS.

Tamara had a difficult life. Her mother did not finish primary school and her father was a drug addict and alcoholic. She was a witness to domestic violence throughout her childhood.

From a young age, she was raped by the oldest of her six brothers, who went to prison for 10 years for what he did, when she finally decided to go to the police, without her mother’s consent.

Today, about to have her third child – with a different man this time, but someone just as absent as the father of her first two – she said she is fighting to make sure her children get an education.

“I make an effort every day for my kids to study, I try hard to educate them, because I don’t want them to suffer like I did. I want to break the circle,” she said.

In Molina’s view, to address the gaps in sexual and reproductive health, political intentions should translate into spending on primary sexual and reproductive health care services for adolescents, training on these issues for health professionals, and effective sex education programmes.

“Mexico’s good sex education programmes are only partially functioning; the excellent programmes that Costa Rica had have been discontinued; and Colombia has made enormous efforts to come up with really good sex education teaching materials, but they have practically been doomed to fail by political and strategic questions,” Molina said.

“Something similar is happening in Peru, where there have also been good programmes but they don’t have strategic or political support from the government,” he added. “Argentina gets good results, but with strong support from the government in developing sex education programmes. The same is true in Uruguay.”

According to the doctor, the case of Chile “is the worst of all,” because “we are plagued with opprobrium and shame.”

“We were the last country in the region to have a law protecting young people with sex education, which was passed in 2010 but did not enter into force until July 2014. The situation here is embarrassing,” he said.

He added that in order to meet the Agenda 2030 target for preventing teen pregnancies, merely making birth control available is not enough, “because I could drop condoms and pills from a helicopter but it wouldn’t be an effective measure.”

The issue, he said, is that people have to actually use the contraceptives, and need to know when and how to do so – which requires education.

“The goal is preventing the first pregnancy, and to do that what is needed is education, education, and when everything else has failed, education and more education. And as part of that education – broad, in-depth sex education, without ideological bias,” he added.

Molina also stressed that both maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancy “are no longer technical, but political, problems” which require that states be responsible and implement effective public policies, without worrying about facing up to conservative power groups “who are ignorant traditionalists, and cause us terrible damage.”

As the region gets ready to sign on to the SDGs, the new challenges call for a more holistic, participative, interdisciplinary and universal approach.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Costa Rica Finally Allows In Vitro Fertilisation after 15-Year Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/#comments Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:45:25 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142370 A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

After banning in vitro fertilisation for 15 years and failing to comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling for nearly three years, Costa Rica will finally once again allow the procedure for couples and women on their own.

On Sept. 10, centre-left President Luis Guillermo Solís issued a decree ordering compliance with the Inter-American Court’s 2012 verdict against the ban fomented by conservative sectors. The president ordered that measures be taken to overcome judicial and legislative barriers erected against compliance with the Court judgment.

“This was discriminatory,” lawyer Hubert May, the representative of several of the 12 couples who brought the legal action against the ban before the Court, told IPS. “The ban only affected those who couldn’t afford to carry out the procedure abroad, or those who weren’t willing to mortgage their homes or take out loans to fulfill their longing (for a child of their own).”

In November 2012, the Court ruled that the ban on in vitro fertilisation (IVF) violated the rights to privacy, liberty, personal integrity and sexual health, the right to form a family, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to have access to technological progress. It gave Costa Rica six months to legalise the procedure.

But opposition from conservative sectors blocked compliance and hurt Costa Rica’s image in terms of international law.

Solís’s decree regulates IVF and puts the public health system in charge of the procedure, thus ensuring access for lower-income couples.

May said the decree “solves the problem of discrimination” by paving the way for the social security institute, the CCSS, to provide IVF as part of its regular health services.

IVF is a reproductive technology in which an egg is removed from a woman and joined with a sperm cell from a man in a test tube (in vitro). The resulting embryo is implanted in the woman’s uterus.

In its 2012 ruling, the Court stated that Costa Rica was the only country in the world to expressly outlaw IVF, a measure that directly affected local women and couples. In Latin America the procedure was first used in 1984, in Argentina.

One of the women affected by the ban was Gretel Artavia Murillo, who with her then husband ran up debt in an attempt to have a baby in the late 1990s.

Her now ex-husband, Miguel Mejías, declared before the Court that he had mortgaged his home and spent all his savings for the couple to undergo in vitro fertilisation in Costa Rica, but before they were able to do so, the practice was declared illegal.

IVF was first regulated in Costa Rica in 1995, but was banned in March 2000 by the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court.

Five of the seven magistrates on the constitutional chamber argued that the law violated the right to life, which began “at conception, when a person is already a person…a living being, with the right to be protected by the legal system.”

Artavia and Mejía, along with 11 other couples, brought the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2001, and a decade later it reached the Inter-American Court. The Commission and the Court are the Organisation of American States (OAS) autonomous human rights institutions.

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

A year later, the Court, which is based in the Costa Rican capital, San José, and whose rulings cannot be appealed and are theoretically binding, handed down its verdict.

“The constitutional chamber’s view was not shared by the Court, which considered that protection of life began with the implantation of a fertilised egg in the uterus,” said May.

May and other experts on the case said the position taken by Costa Rica’s highest court responded to the extremely conservative views of the leadership of the Catholic Church, and of other Christian faiths with growing influence in the country.

This Central American nation of 4.7 million people considers itself a standard-bearer of human rights in international forums. But the question of IVF tarnished that image when the conservative sectors took up opposition to it as a cause.

The debate in the legislature on a law to regulate IVF stalled for over two years, due to resistance by evangelical and conservative lawmakers.

In a Sep. 3 public hearing by the Court on compliance with the 2012 ruling, the executive branch said it planned to regulate the procedure by means of a decree, which civil society organisations saw as a reasonable solution to the stalemate over the new law.

“We know that in the legislature there is no way to forge ahead on key issues, such as practically anything to do with sexual and reproductive rights,” Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer who specialises in these rights, told IPS.

Arroyo pointed out that with regard to an issue like IVF, time is of the essence, given that a woman’s childbearing years are limited. She noted that “almost all of the victims lost their chance” to have children using the technique.

In the week between the public hearing and the signing of the presidential decree, the government consulted Costa Rica’s College of Physicians and the CCSS. While both backed the decree, the CCSS clarified that it preferred a law and warned that it would need additional funding, because each fertility treatment costs around 40,000 dollars.

The decree limits the number of fertilised eggs to be implanted to two.

In the same week, the legislative debate became further bogged down. While one group of legislators tried to expedite approval of the law to regulate IVF, another group continued to oppose the procedure as an attack on human life at its origin, likening it to the Jewish holocaust.

“The extermination camps of Nazi Germany are in the Costa Rica of today, the Costa Rica of the Solís administration,” evangelical legislator Gonzalo Ramírez, of the conservative Costa Rican Renewal Party, even said at one point.

Given that outlook and the impasse in the legislature, organisations like the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) celebrated the decree which offers “universal access” to IVF and “respect for the principle of equality.”

However, CEJIL programme director for Central America and Mexico Marcia Aguiluz recommended waiting until IVF is actually being implemented.

“The decree lives up to the requirements, but it is just a first step,” said Aguiluz, who is from Costa Rica. “Until the practice starts being carried out, we can’t say there has been compliance.”

Lawyers for the presidency said the decree is equipped to withstand legal challenges.

The 2012 ruling is the second handed down against Costa Rica in the history of the Court. The previous one was in 2004, when the Court found that the conviction of journalist Mauricio Herrera by a Costa Rican court on charges of defamation of a diplomat violated free speech, and ordered that the country enact new legislation on freedom of expression.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/mental-health-another-casualty-of-changing-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mental-health-another-casualty-of-changing-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/mental-health-another-casualty-of-changing-climate/#comments Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142322 A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Women’s Major Role in Culture of Peace – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-womens-major-role-in-culture-of-peace-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-womens-major-role-in-culture-of-peace-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-womens-major-role-in-culture-of-peace-part-two/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:31:47 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142310

Ambassador Chowdhury is Chair of the U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999).

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

Another reality that emerges very distinctly in culture of peace is that we should never forget when women – half of world’s seven billion plus people – are marginalised and their equality is not established in all spheres of human activity, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

I would reiterate that women in particular have a major role to play in promoting the culture of peace in our violence-ridden societies, thereby bringing in lasting peace and reconciliation. While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognised as key to the resolution of the conflict.

I believe with all my conviction that without peace, development is not possible, without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development can be realised.

Integral connection between development and peace

In today’s world we continue to perceive an inherent paradox that needs our attention. The process of globalisation has created an irreversible trend toward a global integrated community, while at the same time, divisions and distrust keep on manifesting in different and complex ways.

Disparities and inequalities within and among nations have been causing insecurity and uncertainty that has become an unwanted reality in our lives. That is why I strongly believe that peace and development are two sides of the same coin. One is meaningless without the other; one cannot be achieved without the other.It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Education as the most critical element in the culture of peace

A key ingredient in building the culture of peace is education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in creating the culture of peace.

The young of today deserves a radically different education –“one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, non-violence and international cooperation.” They need the skills and knowledge to create and nurture peace for their individual selves as well as for the world they belong to.

As Maria Montessori had articulated so appropriately, “Those who want a violent way of living, prepare young people for that; but those who want peace have neglected their young children and adolescents and that way are unable to organize them for peace.”

It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted at the very first High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace in 2012 that “…. We are here to talk about how to create this culture of peace. I have a simple, one-word answer: education. Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace.”

In this context, I commend the initiative of the Soka University of America located near Los Angeles in initiating in 2014 its annual “Dialogue on The Culture of Peace and Non-Violence” as an independent, unbiased, non-partisan, intellectual forum to outline avenues and direction for incorporating the culture of peace and non-violence into all spheres of the educational experience.

Never has it been more important for us to learn about the world and understand its diversity. The task of educating children and young people to find non-aggressive means to relate with one another is of primary importance.

As I had underscored at the conference hosted by the Hague Appeal for Peace on “Educating toward a World without Violence” in Albania in 2004, “the participation of young people in this process is very essential. Their inputs in terms of their own ideas on how to cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies must be fully taken into account.”

Peace education is more effective and meaningful when it is adopted according to the social and cultural context and the country’s needs and aspirations. It should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values.

It should also be globally relevant. The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice rightly emphasises that “…culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems; have the skills to resolve conflicts constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the integrity of the Earth.”

Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative’s essential objective is to promote global citizenship as the main objective of education. Connecting the role of individuals to broader global objectives, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior affirmed that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Let me conclude by asserting that to turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, basically all that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence, and to practice what we profess.

Whether it is at events like the annual High Level Forums, in places of worship, in schools or in our homes, a lot can be achieved in promoting the culture of peace through individual resolve and action. Peace and non-violence should become a part of our daily existence. This is the only way we shall achieve a just and sustainable peace in the world.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 12:12:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141990 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

If there is any idea and cause for which the United Nations has been an indispensable engine of progress globally it is the cause of ending all forms of “discrimination and violence against women and girls, ensuring the realization of their equal rights and advancing their political, economic and social empowerment.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women has been featured prominently in the history of the United Nations system since its inception. The ideas, commitments and actions of the United Nations have sought to fundamentally improve the situation of women around the world, in country after country.Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Now, as we celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, the U.N. continues to be the world leader in establishing the global norms and policy standards on women’s empowerment, their human rights and on establishing what we at U.N. Women call  the Planet 50 / 50 Project on equality between women and men.

Equality between men and women was enshrined in the U.N.’s founding Charter as a key principle and objective. Just a year after, in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was set up as the dedicated intergovernmental body for policy dialogue and standard setting and monitoring gender equality commitments of member states and their implementation.

Since then, the Commission has played an essential role in guiding the work of the United Nations and in setting standards for all countries, from trailblazing advocacy for the full political suffrage of women and political rights to women’s role in development.

It also gave birth to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1979. Often called the international bill of rights for women, and used as a global reference point for both governments and NGOs alike, the Convention has been ratified by 189 States so far.

These governments regularly report to the CEDAW Committee which has also become a generator of normative guidance through its General Recommendations, apart from strengthening the accountability of governments.

As the torch-bearer on women’s rights, the U.N. also led the way in declaring 1975 to 1985 the International Women’s Decade. During this period the U.N. held the first three World Conferences on Women, in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) which advanced advocacy, activism and policy action on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in multiple areas.

In 1995, the U.N. hosted the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of most progressive frameworks which continues to be the leading roadmap for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in 12 critical areas of concern including poverty, education, health, economy, power and decision making, ending violence against women, women’s human rights, conflict and post conflict environment, media, institutional mechanisms and the girl child.

Since 1995 gender equality and women’s empowerment issues have permeated all intergovernmental bodies of the U.N. system.

The General Assembly, the highest and the universal membership body of the United Nations, leads the way with key normative resolutions as well as reflecting gender perspectives in areas such as agriculture, trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, disarmament and non-proliferation, and many others. Among the MDGs, MDG 3 was specifically designed to promote gender equality and empower women apart from Goal 5 on maternal mortality.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has also been a strong champion of gender mainstreaming into all policies, programmes, areas and sectors as the mains strategy in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Progress achieved so far has been in part possible thanks to ECOSOC’s strong mandate for mainstreaming a gender perspective and its support to the United Nations system-wide action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-SWAP) which constitutes a unified accountability framework for and of the U.N. to support gender equality and empowerment of women.

Strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their role in peacebuilding, the U.N. sent a strong signal by addressing the issue of women peace and security in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which asserted  the imperative of  women’s empowerment in  conflict prevention, peace-making and peace building apart from ensuring their protection.

This resolution was seen as a must for women as well as for lasting peace and it has since been complemented by seven additional resolutions including on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year as the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 is commemorated, a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation is underway.

It is expected to renew the political will and decisive action to ensure that women are equal partners and their agency and leadership is effectively engaged in conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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