Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 22 Jan 2017 17:49:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Please, Do Not Get Offended, But:http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/please-do-not-get-offended-but/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=please-do-not-get-offended-but http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/please-do-not-get-offended-but/#comments Sun, 22 Jan 2017 17:49:36 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148616 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2017 (IPS)

a) Those who voted Trump are generally totally unaware of what happens beyond their immediate surroundings. So it will take a long time before they will realize that Trump is not about their real interest. This means that the polarization and the division of the U.S. will continue for a long time to come. And in the end, disillusionment and frustration will result in a further decline of democracy, and with a possible new populism coming up.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

b) The American democratic system is incomprehensible for us foreigners. We understand the history, the constitution, everything. But we think that a system where somebody who with 3 million votes less than his opponent becomes president, on the basis that this was adequate two centuries ago, needs to be updated urgently. And then you find out that this is not possible, because the smaller states are majority, and can block any constitutional change, like direct democracy. This, for us, looks like an inadequate democratic system.

c) Since the Supreme court did install George W. Bush, and then gave a vote to the corporations because they have equal rights as the people, we foreigners look at the Supreme Court as a partisan place, not as the Supreme institution that is there to act in defense of the citizens. Add to this the permanent fight between the legislative, judicial and executive, and instead of the balance of power that the founding fathers wanted, we have a dysfunctional democracy.

d) Elections now cost over 2 billion dollars. To be elected in the senate, you need a war chest of least 40 million dollars. You have two brothers who can invest in the elections 800 million dollars. That is not democracy, it is oligarchy.

All this are structural problems, and for me Trump is the proof that democracy in the U.S. is in crisis. Yet, I ceased to discuss this with my American friends, because they are not only convinced to be in a democracy, but many, as George W Bush said, the only democracy….

Maybe Trump will bring debates and reflections on the state of democracy in the US. But I doubt that the system will be able to evolve. Especially if Trump stays eight years….

But that said, a crisis of democracy is when people stop believing in it. And in Europe this is what is happening, and Brexit is a clear signal of that. Today the European leaders of populist and xenophobe parties met in Coblenz, to coordinate themselves, in view of the next elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. And here two points, to echo somehow David:

1) All the right wing parties look to Putin as a point of reference. Defence of the family, religious values, national interests and identity, etc. Putin has been funding Le Pen, and Wilders, Farage, Salvini and so to look on him as a leader: not only Trump.
2) Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has declared that part of his job is to create an international Alliance of populist and xenophobe parties, and he has indicated Farage as the example of a European whom the White House is looking up to.

My conclusion: we are in for a hell of a time. And the best example that we have is that the compass is lost and that we all live in an Anglo world, with values of democracy, human rights, common gods, sustainable development, woman empowerment and so on, which all come from the Anglo world. Pax Britannia lasted until 1914. It was replaced by Pax Americana. And in 11 months, both countries abdicated their role in the world…knowing well that we are in a multipolar world, with China, India and so on in the race…this is simply crazy…

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Regional Solutions Key for Asia-pacific’s Transition to Sustainable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:36:24 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148602 Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). ]]>

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region is at a turning point in its energy trajectory. The energy solutions that have fuelled growth in the region over the past few decades are no longer compatible with the sustainable development aspirations of our nations and their people. In transitioning to a new era of sustainable energy, policymakers across the region face complex decisions. Supplies must be secure and affordable, and they must fill the energy access gap which leaves half a billion people across the region without access to electricity. At the same time mitigating the local impacts of energy generation and use will be vital in resolving problems such as the air pollution choking our cities and the global consequences of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Solutions exist, but only through regional cooperation and integration can Asia and the Pacific transition to sustainable energy in time to meet the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goals.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Countries have committed to moving towards a more diverse and low carbon energy mix through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. However, fossil fuels stubbornly remain a major part of the regional energy mix, making up three-quarters of electricity generation. Unless the region’s countries work together to accelerate the incorporation of sustainable energy into their strategies, business-as-usual approaches will result in a continuation of fossil fuel use and associated impacts.

While some countries suffer from energy shortages which limit their economic and social development, others enjoy energy surpluses, such as hydropower and natural gas. Trading these resources through new cross-border power grids, drawing on renewable energy when possible, as well as gas pipeline infrastructures, can open up enormous opportunities for both economic growth and decarbonisation.

The energy technology renaissance already underway in some countries is playing a vital role in the transition. New technologies are reducing the cost of clean energy and renewable power. Smart grids and electric vehicles are rapidly gaining market share. Since 2010, the cost of solar power generation has declined by 58 percent, with the cost of wind power down by one-third. The International Renewable Energy Agency projects cost reductions of 59 percent in solar power and 12 percent in wind power within 10 years, edging below fossil fuel electricity costs in most Asia-Pacific countries. Advances in long-distance power transmission technologies enable the linking of renewable energy resource-rich areas such as the Gobi Desert, Central Asia and far eastern Russia, with distant population centers. Asia-Pacific has emerged as an engine for clean energy, both as a manufacturing center for renewable energy technologies and as the leading region for deployment, with $160 billion invested in renewables in 2015.

On the demand side, energy efficiency technologies have an important role to play in the energy transition. Better energy efficiency is a key driver in decoupling energy use and GDP growth in many economies. With 15 percent of the world’s electricity consumed by lighting, efficient LED lighting technology, which consumes up to 85 percent less energy, will make substantial savings. Energy storage technologies for vehicles and power applications have also leapt ahead, offering flexibility in power usage and balancing variable electricity generation from renewables. Here again, regional cooperation, technology transfer and south-south collaboration will play a vital role in the transition.

Despite these encouraging developments, the success of the energy transition will require sustained commitment at national and regional levels through better policies, incentives and allocation of investments. The inertia of the existing energy sector is considerable, with its long-lived assets and entrenched institutional arrangements. Regional cooperation, through sharing of policy experiences, building capacity and mobilizing finance can play a significant role in assisting countries to implement their own energy sector reforms and capture the many co-benefits. The importance of regional energy cooperation is evident in the transboundary nature of many prominent energy challenges – improving regional energy security, managing air pollution and establishing cross-border energy infrastructure. ASEAN, South Asian and Central Asian countries as well as China, Russia and Mongolia are already embracing cross-border energy connectivity. Initiatives such as the CASA 1000 and the ASEAN Power Grid will allow low carbon energy from gas, hydropower, solar or wind to be traded across borders. Long-term regional dialogue is required to further develop these complex and infrastructure-intensive initiatives.

Connecting countries, finding regional solutions and promoting regional standards and guidelines has been at the core of the work of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the past 70 years. We recognize the need for regional energy cooperation, and with the support of our member States established an intergovernmental Committee on Energy that will meet for the first time in Bangkok, 17-19 January. Through the Committee, countries will help to map out key regional energy solutions for the region such as accelerating uptake of renewables and energy efficiency, establishing cross-border energy connectivity, promoting regional approaches to energy security, and providing modern energy access throughout the region to ensure a sustainable energy future for all. Through regional cooperation and integration I am confident that the countries of Asia-Pacific region can transform their energy trajectories to better serve their people, the region and the planet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Were UN Plans to Ban Nukes Pre-empted by Trump?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:16:16 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148579 A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

UN member states wanting to ban nuclear weapons may make little headway in 2017, after US President-elect Donald Trump pre-empted their agreement by proposing to expand the United States nuclear arsenal.

In one of their final decisions of 2016, the UN General Assembly agreed to hold a conference in March 2017 to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

123 the UN’s 193 member states supported the General Assembly resolution which initiated the conference. Notable votes against the resolution included: France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, The United Kingdom and the United States. Aside from China, which abstained, the no votes included all of the countries permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the current UN non-proliferation treaty which was adopted in 1968.

"This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don't see Trump having a significant impact," -- Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The 1968 treaty bans all UN member states except China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States from owning nuclear weapons and commits those states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals, pledges that have been ignored. Iraq, North Korea, Iran (and, unofficially, Israel) have all violated the treaty by developing nuclear weapons, and it is widely seen as requiring renegotiation to be effective. Should Donald Trump pursue his ambitions, it could put the treaty in jeopardy.

However the resolution – which was adopted on 23 December – was foreshadowed by a tweet by President-elect Donald Trump on 22 December where he stated: “United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. Trump also mentioned that dismantling Obama’s long-negotiated Iran nuclear agreement was his “number one priority”.

Some have seen these comments as an act of assertion aimed at strengthening his negotiating position upon arriving in the Oval Office, as Trump has already reversed his position on issues to which he pledged support.

Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has described these statements as ‘nuclear-sabre rattling’ and the challenge to implementing the treaty as imperative.

“The Obama administration was very hostile to the idea of a ban treaty,” Fihn told IPS, despite Obama’s comments to the contrary, “and there’s no expectation that Trump will be more friendly. This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don’t see Trump having a significant impact. However, his rhetoric should definitely serve as a motivation for all of us. It’s a signal that the nuclear-armed states are not interested in real progress.”

Chief among the issues that would comprise a treaty is the Iranian nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a long-negotiated tool many on the Security Council are seeking to protect.

Fihn and representatives from other non-proliferation organisations are awaiting clearer statements from Trump’s administration before establishing their strategies, an approach that may have worked when dealing with previous administrations but may face unprecedented difficulty today. Trump has spoken before about the value of being unpredictable when it comes to nuclear weapons as a means to keep other leaders, both friends and enemies, keen to appease.

Unpredictability is also the hallmark of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. In his New Year’s address, Kim warned that North Korean engineers were in the “final stage” of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Provoking a disbelieving response from Trump and more cautious tones from China and South Korea.

The most recent attempt at a nonproliferation review treaty in 2015 was unsuccessful, largely because of the failure of efforts to engage Iran and Israel. Both countries still absorb a disproportionate amount of the efforts to implement a treaty.

In an address to the IAEA Conference Commit to Further Strengthening Nuclear Security, Director General Yukiya Amano reinforced the socioeconomic value of nuclear technology as not remaining the preserve of wealthy countries. “Terrorists and criminals will try to exploit any vulnerability in the global nuclear security system, and any country could become the target of an attack. That is why effective international cooperation is vital.”

According to the findings of a congressional study into international arms sales that found that the sale of global arms dropped in 2015 to $80bn from 2014’s $89bn with the US responsible for around half of all sales.

Over the next decade, the United States is expected to spend around half a trillion dollars on maintenance and upkeep of delivery systems of its nuclear weapons armoury, considerably larger than the Department of Defence claims is required to deter a nuclear attack.

“The treaty needs a strong and clear prohibition on use and possession of nuclear weapons but it will be a challenge to make sure the prohibition will cover other relevant activities too,” says Fihn, “such as assistance to other states not party to the treaty.”

“It will also be a lot of work to get as many states as possible to engage in the negotiations and sign it. And of course a real challenge will be the implementation of the treaty, once it’s in place – we need to make sure the treaty has a real impact.”

The conference is scheduled to run from March 27-31.

Correction: an earlier version of the this article referred to Beatrice Kihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It should have read Beatrice Fihn.

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Social Networks in Mexico Both Fuel and Fight Discontenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:38:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148584 The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The scene in the video is simple: a bearded man with a determined look on his face sitting in front of a white wall witha portrait of Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution.

“Mexicans to the battle cry, the moment has come to overthrow the corrupt political system we are under, it is now or never. We will show what we are made of. With just two steps we will be able to write a new history, which our children and grandchildren will also enjoy,” lawyer Amín Cholác says emphatically.

In the video titled “Mexicans to the cry of: Peña out!,” Cholác urges people to take part in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against the rise in fuel prices adopted Jan. 1 by the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“I made this video because we cannot stand it anymore, this country cannot take it any longer,” the founder of the non-governmental organisation Dos Valles Valientes, who lives in the southern state of Chiapas, told IPS.

The video has thousands of views on Youtube, and in other video networks, and has also spread over Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

“It has been well received, people from all over the country have joined, they have communicated via social networks or by phone. But I have also been threatened, they put an image of hitmen, they insulted my mother, but if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Cholác.

The activist, whose organisation fights increases in electricity rates, said “the networks are a double-edged sword. They have worked extraordinarily well for us, because they are very accessible and cheap. Whatsapp reaches every corner, as do text messages.”

But activists are also threatened through the networks, said Cholác, whose Facebook account was cloned twice. “I opened another one, and I promised myself that for every Facebook account that was cloned, I would open three,” he said.

The video’s wide dissemination reflects the growing use of the Internet in Mexico to drive political and social movements, such as the resistance to fuel price increases. But the social networks also serve to promote counter-attacks against citizen initiatives by the political powers-that-be and the spreading of misinformation and propaganda by the other side.

The up to 20 per cent hike in fuel prices unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, as well as a wave of lawsuits filed by trade unions and organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.

The simultaneous price rises for fuel, electricity and cooking gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over the public perception of growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which have waned somewhat but show no signs of stopping, have led to at least six deaths, the arrests of 1,500 people, and the looting of dozens of stores.

 Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks.  Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo


Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks. Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo

“The protests in response to the price rises arose from spontaneous calls disseminated on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. A call started to circulate for people to not fill their gas tanks for three days, and around new year’s day the calls for protests started, mainly along the border,” said Alberto Escorcia, with the group Loquesigue TV.

On Jan. 4, the group published an analysis of the rumours and calls to violence, which were fed by 650 Twitter accounts and more than 7,600 messages – allegedly false accounts used to fight back against the protests.

As a result of the group’s publications, Escorcia received threats, he told IPS.

According to a study carried out last year, in 2015 Internet penetration in Mexico was 59 per cent, in a population of 122 million, in spite of there being almost one mobile phone per inhabitant. This is an indication of the relative power of digital democracy in this country.

Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter are the social networks preferred by Mexicans.

“Between Jan. 2 and 3 the ‘gasolinazo’ (the price rise) was going to be an important trending topic, because it is a noble theme, in the sense that it attracts a variety of sectors and affects society as a whole,” expert Rossana Reguillo told IPS.

“But on Jan. 4, the countertrend started. ‘Bots’ and ‘trolls’ gained visibility, giving rise to other trends. The (protests against the) gasolinazo started to lose ground,” said Reguillo, the head of the interdisciplinary laboratory Signa Lab, at the private Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

The lab examined Twitter and detected more than 10,000 accounts involved in the dissemination of some 15,000 messages aimed at neutralising the social unrest. Standing out in this effort were the online groups Legión Hulk and SomosSecta100tifika (which translates into ‘We are a scientific sect‘). The latter promotes the trending topic #GolpeDeEstadoMx (Pro Coup D’etat Mexico).

This counteroffensive shows how the citizens‘ online mobilisation triggers a response from the powers under attack, as well as threats against activists, such as the ones received by Cholác and Escorcia.

“We have found a pattern of fear-mongering and anonymous calls similar to what we saw ahead of the inauguration of Peña Nieto (in December 2012), when weeks before, rumours of looting began to circulate,” said Escorcia.

In his opinion, “this time there was greater damage, because the fear of going out and the encouragement for people to get involved in the looting spread from the web to the streets,” he said.

A precedent to this was the reaction sparked by the notorious quote by then Attorney-General Jesús Murillo, who said “I´ve had enough“ in November 2014, referring to the unresolved case of the forced disappearance in September of that year of 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero.

That expression generated the trending topic on Twitter #YaMeCansé (“I‘ve had enough“), as well as an attempt to neutralise it.

A study “On the influence of social bots in online protests; Preliminary findings of a Mexican case study“, published last September by academics from Mexico and the United States, concluded that there was an important presence of bots, which simulate human beings, affecting discussions online about the case of the missing students.

This phenomenon is widespread, and in Latin America the experts consulted by IPS mention in particular the case of Brazil, during the lengthy process that lead to former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and removal from office, in August 2016.

Their hypothesis is that companies dedicated to these services work for governments and political parties to silence online dissent.

In the case of Mexico, Escorcia said “there are companies that generate anything from online attacks to fake news items and political campaigns, which have worked for all kinds of organisations: left-wing, right-wing, and obviously for the PRI,” the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party.

For Reguillo, who has also been a victim of social network attacks on several occasions, the main question is who is behind this cyber activity.

“There is money involved here, it’s not a group of young people who say ‘let‘s crash the web‘. There is a clear strategy to silence debate, to invade the public space and turn Twitter into a battlefield. They destabilise the space for discussion,” she commented.

“Nobody can stop this. People have become aware and are protesting,” said Cholác, who is calling for mass demonstrations on Feb. 5.

Another fuel price hike scheduled for early February will spark further online battles.

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Right to Information Dead on Arrival at UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/right-to-information-dead-on-arrival-at-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-information-dead-on-arrival-at-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/right-to-information-dead-on-arrival-at-un/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:32:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148581 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The 193-member UN General Assembly has been dragging its feet on a proposal that has been kicked around the corridors of the United Nations for over 10 years: a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) providing journalists the “right to information” in a sprawling bureaucracy protective of its turf.

world-press-freedom-dayIronically, nearly 100 countries – all of them UN member states – have approved some form of national legislation recognizing the right to information (RTI) within their own borders but still seem unenthusiastic in extending it to the press corps at the United Nations.

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which dates back to 1967, has provided the public and the press the right to request access to records from any federal agency—and has been described as “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government”.

In the US, federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

In Australia, the legislation is known as Right2Know; in Bangladesh, the Right to Information (RTI) Resources Centre provides resources for those seeking to file a request with government agencies; in Japan, the Citizens’ Centre for Information Disclosure offers help to those interested in filing requests; in India, the Right to Information: a Citizen Gateway is the portal for RTI; Canada’s Access to Information Act came into force in 1983 and Kenya’s Access to Information Act was adopted in August 2016, according to the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

The strongest law among the new countries on the RTI Rating is that of Sri Lanka, which scores 121 points, putting the country in 9th place globally, says CLD.

The passage of this law means that every country in South Asia apart from Bhutan now has an RTI law. The region is generally a strong performer, with every country scoring over 100 points except Pakistan, which continues to languish near the bottom of the rating, according to CLD.

And Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 has been described as the “oldest in the world.”

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), which provides media accreditation and doles out free office space to UN-based journalists, told IPS the right to information is an integral part of U.N. principles.

But providing that right—even the basic information available in the public domain– has been stymied both by member states and the UN bureaucracy, he added.

He pointed out that the need to “inform the peoples” of the United Nations is implicitly indicated in the Charter.

But implementing it was “a basic issue I had experienced throughout my work, with both certain government officials– including those publicly claiming open channels– and many senior U.N. Secretariat colleagues”.

Those who believed “Information is Power” were very hesitant, to what they perceived was sharing their authority with a wider public, said Sanbar who served under five different UN Secretaries-General.

“It was most evident that when I launched the now uncontested website www.un.org, a number of powerful Under-Secretaries-General (USGs) and Permanent Representatives cautioned me against “telling everyone what was happening” (in the UN system) and refused to authorize any funds.”

“I had to raise a team of DPI volunteers in my office, operating from within the existing budget, to go ahead and eventually offer computers loaned from an outside source, to certain delegations to realize it was more convenient for them to access news releases than having to send one of their staffers daily to the building to collect material from the third floor.“

Eventually, everyone joined in, and the site is now recognized as one of the ten best official sites worldwide.

“We had a similar difficulty in prodding for International World Press Freedom Day through the General Assembly. It seems that even those with the best of intentions– since delegates represent official governments that view free press with cautious monitoring– are usually weary of opening a potentially vulnerable issue,” said Sanbar, author of the recently-released “Inside the U.N. in a Leaderless World’.

Matthew Lee, an investigative UN-based journalist who has been pursuing the story for over 10 years, told IPS he has been virtually fighting a losing battle.

“When I first got to the UN in late 2005, I noticed there was no FOIA. After asking around about it, I got then Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Management, Christopher Burnham, to say he would work on it. But he left. So I asked his replacement at Under-Secretary-General, Alicia Barcena, who said she would work on it. She never did.”

The UN Secretariat, he said, has continued to blame the General Assembly. But the Secretariat could easily adopt its own policy, for example, to disclose who pays for UN Secretary-General’s travel.

Asked about the FOIA, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS last year: “The secretary-general supports the idea of transparency. But this would be an issue for member states.”
Barbara Crossette, a former UN Bureau Chief for the New York Times and currently contributing editor and writer for PassBlue, an online publication covering the UN, told IPS: “I think you are right, to be sceptical about getting anything like this through the General Assembly. Or for that matter that the Security Council would be cooperative, if asked for information.”

As you would know, a lot of people who have worked in DPI see the General Assembly – and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in particular — as loathe to promote the sharing of information, even in the current setup, and assume that not enough countries would back making access to it a right, she noted.

“A FOIA would be a godsend to would-be spies. And how would it be legally crafted, I wonder?. It would be interesting to know if places like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have these policies.”

The new Secretary–General Antonio Guterres’ team “is supposed to be writing a new communications policy for the UN — making it more open and effective in outreach generally. But I don’t know if that will include journalists.”

In one of her recent pieces in PassBlue, Crossette said the DPI is also completely hamstrung by its mandate, officials acknowledge, and the head of the office, who ranks as Under Secretary-General, is not chosen primarily for his or her media skills, but is often a political appointee with little or no journalism experience.

He or she must work under tight budgetary conditions deliberately framed to not give the department the tools it needs, she added.

Sinha Ratnatunga, editor-in- chief of the Sunday Times, a major weekly newspaper in Sri Lanka, told IPS the RTI law was passed by parliament last June; signed into law by the Speaker in August and becomes operational on February 4 (independence Day).

“However, there is a provision to ‘stagger’ its implementation if the government isn’t ready”, he pointed out.

“In any event the law must be operational whether the government is ready or not by August 4 (one year after the Speaker signed it into law). But the government is rather silent on how prepared they are for February 4 which is hardly a fortnight or so away”, said Ratnatunga , Deputy Chairman, of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and Board Member of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

He said the law is pretty progressive but many people, including journalists “are pretty clueless about its power and reach and what difference it can make to empowering citizens and journalists in the quest of good governance.”

He said there’s a whole exercise of educating public servants, appointing Information Officers, educating the journalists and the citizenry ahead.

“Yes, the law took 12 plus years in the making, but the most difficult process of educating the country on the potential of the law lies ahead.”

“Hopefully, the media will play the role of whistleblower, but fewer journalists are now interested in investigative journalism; so we have to wait and see if all the trouble in bringing the law was worth it, after all,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148561 Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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Trump’s UN Pick: “UN Could Benefit from a Fresh Set of Eyes”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:46:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148558 Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

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

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the UN, outlined her vision of a strong U.S. role in the human rights institution at a confirmation hearing today.

Noting her potential role as a “fresh set of eyes” and an “outsider,” Haley highlighted the need for a strong U.S. leadership position at the UN.

“When America fails to lead, the world becomes a dangerous place. And when the world becomes more dangerous, the American people become more vulnerable,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she will bring back the U.S.’ “indispensable voice of freedom.”

When asked about Russia, Haley expressed caution in trusting them but suggested that their government could be an asset.

“Russia is trying to show their muscle right now…and we have to continue to be very strong back. We need to let them know that we are not okay with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria, but we are also going to tell them that we do need their help with ISIS,” she said.

In her last major speech, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power similarly noted U.S. interest in solving problems and cooperating with Russia, but expressed dire concerns over Russia’s “aggressive and destabilizing actions” in Crimea, Syria and its interferences in numerous governments.

“Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against—having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism,” she said.

During her hearing, Haley acknowledged that Russia violated the international order when it invaded Crimea and its actions in Syria constitute war crimes, and that she supports preserving sanctions against the government. She also noted the need to stand up to any and all countries that attempts to interfere with the U.S.

This represents what could be perceived as a break with President-elect Trump who has previously denied intelligence pointing to Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections.

In recent comments, President-elect Trump also suggested easing sanctions against Russia in return for a deal to reduce nuclear weapons. He additionally criticised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), calling it “obsolete.”

When asked about these comments, Haley again differentiated her position from Trump’s:

“It is important that we have alliances…I think as we continue to talk to him about these alliances and how they can be helpful and strategic, I do anticipate he will listen to all of us and hopefully we can get him to see it the way we see it,” she said.

“I’m going to control the part that I can,” she continued.

Haley also blasted the UN for what she described as its “biased” position on Israel during the hearing, stating: “Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than its bias against our close ally Israel.”

Like President-elect Trump, Haley particularly criticised the recent passage of a Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, calling it a “terrible mistake” that makes a peace agreement even harder to achieve.

During the vote in December, the U.S. broke with long-standing foreign policy towards Israel by abstaining, rather than vetoing. The other 14 members of the 15 member council all voted for the resolution.

Haley vowed to never abstain when the UN takes action that comes in direct conflict with U.S. interests, including actions against Israel.

She highlighted the need for UN reforms, stating that the goal is to “create an international body that better serves the American people.” To bring about changes, Haley suggested using U.S. funding as leverage.

“We are a generous nation but we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we paid for?” she asked. She pointed to the Human Rights Council as an example, questioning their role in supporting and promoting human rights while countries such as Cuba and China are members.

The U.S. currently contributes 22 percent of the UN’s budget.

Recent legislation proposed by two U.S. Republican Senators would see the United States withdraw its funding not only to the UN Secretariat but also to the entire UN-system, including UNICEF, the UN Development Program and UN Women.

Though initially stating that she would not “shy away” from withdrawing U.S. funds to achieve reforms, Haley later backtracked and said that she does not support a “slash and burn” approach in terms of pulling funding from the UN when there are undesirable outcomes, but rather use funds as leverage to help make agencies more effective.

Haley is a South Carolina-born daughter of Indian immigrants and is the first female and first minority governor of her state. She gained national attention after calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol. Haley will replace Ambassador Power as the only woman on the 15-member council.

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Inequality (III): Less Employment… and More ‘Junk’ Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 06:39:10 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148535 Article III of of this three-part series on inequality tackles the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part II focused on the impact of inequality on women. Part I dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide. ]]> Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 18 2017 (IPS)

While just eight men are enjoying their huge wealth, equivalent to that of half the world, new forecasts project darker shadows by predicting rising unemployment rates, more precarious jobs and worsening social inequality. To start with, there will be more than 1.4 billion people employed in vulnerable working conditions.

Throughout 2017, global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million due to deteriorating labour market conditions in emerging countries –particularly those in Latin America and the Caribbean, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warns in a new report.

Meantime, unemployment is expected to fall in developed countries – especially in Northern, Southern, and Western Europe, the United States, and Canada, ILO says in its World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2017.

1 in 2 Workers Employed in Vulnerable Conditions

In addition, the figure of 1.4 billion people who are employed in vulnerable working conditions is not expected to decrease. That number represents 42 per cent of all employment for 2017, warns the report, which was released on January 12, 2017.

“Almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries,” said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.

On this, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, said “We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year…”

According to the report, global gross domestic product (GDP) growth reached a six-year low last year, well below the rate that was projected in 2015.

“Forecasters continue to revise their 2017 predictions downwards and uncertainty about the global economy persists, generating worry among experts that the economy will be unable to employ a sufficient number of people and that growth will not lead to inclusive and shared benefits.”

Since 2009, the percentage of the working-age population willing to migrate abroad for work has risen in almost every region in the world. That trend was most prominent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Arab States, it notes.

The report also points out a number of social inequalities that are creating barriers to growth and prosperity.

Gender gaps in particular are affecting the labour market, ILO notes, and gives specific examples: in Northern Africa, women in the labour force are twice as likely as men to be unemployed. “That gap is wider still for women in Arab States. “

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Discontent, Unrest

As a result of these and other social inequalities across a wide range of demographics, the ILO estimates that the risk of social unrest or discontent is growing in almost all regions.

“Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion. This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs,” said Ryder.

“Persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are alarming…”

ILO called for international cooperation and a coordinated effort to provide fiscal stimuli and public investments to provide an immediate jump-start to the global economy and eliminate an anticipated rise in unemployment for two million people.

On Jan. 16, Oxfam International released a major report — ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ — on the state of growingly deepening inequality worldwide.

On the specific case of employment, it says: “Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite”.

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

What Is Behind the Widening Gap?

Asked what is behind this increasingly worsening inequality, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” said to IPS: “The benefits of economic growth are not shared equally across our societies.

“The vast majority of income generated in the past thirty years has accrued to the owners of capital, and to those at the top of society. Workers have seen their wages stagnate in many countries across the globe, and in many other countries their wages have not risen anywhere near as fast as returns to the owners of capital.”

Ratcliff explained to IPS that in order to maximise returns to their wealthy shareholders, big corporations are dodging taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers, investing less in their business, and spending billions lobbying government to write the rules in their favour.

As a result, erosions in pensions, labour rights and secure work are common across the world, and hit women and the young hardest because tend to be the ones who are concentrated in precarious jobs, on very low pay, she warned.

“If we don’t tackle inequality, workers across the world will pay the price in terms of increasing insecurity and lower wages.”

The Poor Pay Far More than the Rich for a Hot Meal

Should all the above not be enough, new United Nations data shows that a simple bowl of food in Malawi is much more expensive than that same meal in Davos, Switzerland, once adjustments have been made to take into account one’s average daily income.

That is what research by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) revealed. The analysis is part of a new initiative by the WFP called ‘Hot Dinner Data’ which was made public on Jan. 13, just before the Jan. 17 opening of the annual World Economic Forum, a summit of political and economic leaders that takes place in Davos.

“The Hot Dinner Data analysis aims to hold a new mirror up to the world – one which illustrates the distortions in the purchasing power of the rich and the poor as they try to meet their basic food needs,” announced Arif Husain, Chief Economist of WFP.

‘Hot Dinner Data’ reveals that people in the developing world pay as much as 100 times more for a basic plate of food than those who live in wealthier nations. In the most extreme circumstances – for example, in regions under conflict – the cost can be 300 times higher.

For example, it says, a bowl of bean stew – a standard nutritious meal throughout regions and cultures – would cost a person in Switzerland 0.88 Swiss Francs (CHF), or an average 0.41 per cent of their daily income.

“That cost would be 100 times more in Malawi, where a person would need to spend 41 per cent of their daily income to purchase the same meal. In India and Nicaragua, it would be roughly 10 to 15 times more expensive than in Switzerland.”

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Inequality (II): “It Will Take 170 Years for Women to Be Paid as Men Are”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 06:28:32 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148522 Article II of this three-part series on inequality, focuses on the impact of discrimination on women. Part III will tackle the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part I has dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide.]]> Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

While just eight individuals, all of them men, own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — half of world’s total population — it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men, warns a new major report on inequality.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

In it, OXFAM warns that women, who are often employed in low pay sectors, face high levels of discrimination in the workplace, and who take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work, often find themselves at the bottom of the pile.

“On current trends it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men.”Agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men” – EU Commissioner

‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ also reveals how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis, adds OXFAM, an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the 1 dollar an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

“The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world.”

Why?

IPS interviewed Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign”.

“Around the world, women make up the majority of those in the worst-paid and least secure jobs, while shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for unpaid care work. This is not an accident; our current economic model depends on this supply of cheap or free labour.“

When public services are cut because big business and wealthy individuals don’t pay their fair share of taxes, Ratcliff told IPS, it is often women who are hit hardest – for example when education isn’t free, it is girls who tend to miss out.

“Women face discrimination at a household and institutional level, with political and economic elites dominated by men – all 8 of the richest people are men and 89 percent of all billionaires are men.”

According to Ratcliff, economies must be managed to ensure that women have the same economic opportunities as men.

“For example, by ensuring equal access to education, by providing better and more affordable child care services, by investing in basic infrastructure and services, and by challenging social norms about the role of women in our societies.”

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

If Women Had the Same Resources As Men…

Being among the poorest of the poor, and in spite of their critical contributions and of making up half of agriculture workers, rural women and farmers are major victims of inequality.

“If women had the same access to resources as men, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world, ” said Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at a recent high-level event co-organised by four UN specialised bodies, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

“It is often said that if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation. The same is true when we empower women across the board — not only through access to knowledge, but also to resources, to equal opportunities, and by giving them a voice… Yet current statistics suggest that the world is falling short on this score.”

The European Commissioner went on to say that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men.

“As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.”

Women, Half of Agriculture Workers, But…

In developing countries, women make up 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20 per cent in Latin America to up to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“And they are harder workers — in Africa and Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12-13 hours more than men per week.”

Across all regions, women are less likely than men to own or control land, and their plots often are of poorer quality. Less than 20 per cent of the world’s landholders are women.

“Women farmers generate productivity gains. And women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their earnings back into their households — that’s money spent on nutrition, food, healthcare, school, and income-generating activities — helping to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.”

With this data in hand, José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, assured at last month’s high-level meeting that achieving gender equality and empowering women “is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.”

The meeting was co-organised by FAO, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women.

At it, Graziano da Silva affirmed that “Women are the backbone of our work in agriculture,” noting that they comprise 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, with that figure rising to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia.

These numbers underscore the importance of ensuring that rural women enjoy a level playing field, according to the FAO Director-General

Close That Gender Gap!

In her remarks, Gabriela Matecná, Slovak Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and President of the Council of the European Union over last year‘s second semester, said, “the gender gap imposes significant costs on society, in terms of lost agricultural output, food security and economic growth.”

Although nearly half the world’s agricultural labour force is female, she noted, women own less than 20 per cent of agricultural land. At the same time, 60 per cent of chronically hungry people on the planet are women or girls.

“When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community,” noted for his part IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze.

“We see time and time again that gender equality opens doors for entire communities to strengthen their food and nutrition security and to improve their social and economic well-being,” he said, adding: “Empowering rural women is indeed empowering humanity.”

“It is only through empowering women farmers that we can unlock the power of global food systems. Supporting them is essential in creating resilience, building stronger businesses, and advancing food security in the long term,” Denise Brown, Director of Emergencies at World Food Programme (WFP), stated.

And Maria Noel Vaeza, Director of Programs at UN Women, said: “Closing the gender gaps in agriculture can provide multiple development dividends, including gender equality for rural women, food security and poverty reduction, improved climate management and peaceful societies.”

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Inequality (I): Half of World’s Wealth, in the Pockets of Just Eight Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:17:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148511 Article I of a three-part series focuses on the alarmingly deepening inequality. Part II deals with the staggering impact of inequality on women, and Part III with the future and quality of jobs. ]]> Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a major new report by an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

“The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend 1 million dollars every day for 2738 years to spend 1 trillion dollars.”

These Are the World’s 8 Richest People:

1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016.

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016.

The report details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

“New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.”

Had this new data been available last year, the report adds, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.

Obscene!

On this, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Oxfam’s report shows “how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of who are women.” (See Part II of IPS series).

Tax Dodging

OXFAM’s report also tackles the critical issue of tax dodging.

Corporate tax dodging, it informs, costs poor countries at least 100 billion dollars every year.

“This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.”

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’. Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries, which are prone to corruption and cronyism.

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them.

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

A Human Economy?

“Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. If politicians stop obsessing with GDP [Gross Domestic Product], and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.”

Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes a series of measures that should be adopted by governments to end the extreme concentration of wealth to end poverty.

These include increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field, and to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation; to work together to ensure workers are paid a decent wage; and to put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.

These steps also include supporting companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.

As well, governments should ensure economies work for women, and must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.

Does Anybody Care?

Here, a key question arises: national governments, the UN, the EU, and major civil society and human rights organisations, all know about the on-going, obscene inequality. How come that nothing effective has been done do far to prevent it or at least reduce it?

On this, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” comments to IPS that “tackling inequality properly will mean breaking with the economic model we have been following for thirty years.”

“It will also mean taking on and overcoming the powerful interests of the super-rich and corporations who are benefiting from the status quo. So it is not surprising that despite global outcry at the inequality crisis, very little has changed.”

Nevertheless, says Ratcliff, some governments are bucking the trend, and managing to reduce inequality, listening to the demands of the majority not the minority.

Asked for specific examples, Ratcliff says that some governments, like Namibia’s, have managed to decrease inequality by taxing the rich more and spending it on things such as free secondary education that help reduce the gap between rich and poor.

“These countries show that another world is possible, if we can reject this broken economic model and stop the undue influence of the rich.”

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Is Cash Aid to the Poor Wasted on Tobacco and Alcohol?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/is-cash-aid-to-the-poor-wasted-on-tobacco-and-alcohol/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-cash-aid-to-the-poor-wasted-on-tobacco-and-alcohol http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/is-cash-aid-to-the-poor-wasted-on-tobacco-and-alcohol/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 21:07:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148507 Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and has been operating since 2003. As of December 2014, it reached 150,000 households and there are concrete plans to scale it up nation-wide in the near future. Photo: FAO

Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and has been operating since 2003. As of December 2014, it reached 150,000 households and there are concrete plans to scale it up nation-wide in the near future. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Not at all. Or at least not necessarily. The fact is that cash transfer programmes –regular money payments to poor households—are meant to reduce poverty, promote sustainable livelihoods and increase production in the developing world. One in four countries on Earth are applying them. But are they effective?

That depends. In some countries, like Brazil, the so-called Bolsa Família is cited as one of the key factors behind the positive social outcomes this Latin American giant has achieved in recent years.

The programme is an innovative social initiative taken by the Brazilian Government, says the World Bank (WB), which has provided technical and financial support to it.

In fact, Bolsa Família reaches 11 million families, more than 46 million people, a major portion of the country’s low-income population. The model emerged in Brazil more than a decade ago and has been refined since then.

Poor families with children receive an average of 70.00 R (about 35 US dollars) in direct transfers. In return, they commit to keeping their children in school and taking them for regular health checks.

And so Bolsa Família has two important results: helping to reduce current poverty, and getting families to invest in their children, thus breaking the cycle of inter-generational transmission and reducing future poverty.

Although relatively modest in terms of resources when compared with other Brazilian social programs, such as Social Security, the Bolsa Família programme may be the one that is having the greatest impact on the lives of millions of low-income Brazilians, according to the WB.

But what about other countries and regions?

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on Jan. 4 reported that during the past decade, an increasing number of governments in sub-Saharan Africa have launched cash transfer programmes that target the most vulnerable groups, including subsistence farmers, people with disabilities and HIV/AIDS, as well as families caring for elderly and disabled.

But “although local economies and numerous households have benefited from this social protection measure, critics remain doubtful.”

Five Common Myths

Whatever the case is, there are at least five common myths about cash transfers.

FAO elaborated the following list aimed at evaluating how they play an important role in improving food and nutrition security and reducing rural poverty, based on evaluations carried out in seven African countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Myth: Cash will be wasted on alcohol and tobacco

Reality: Alcohol and tobacco represent only 1 to 2 per cent of food expenditures in poor households. Across six countries in Africa where FAO and partners carried out evaluations of cash transfer initiatives, no evidence of increased expenditures was found.

In Lesotho, for example, alcohol expenditures have actually decreased after the introduction of cash transfer programmes.

Myth: Transfers are just ‘hand-outs’ and do not contribute to development.

Reality: In Zambia, cash transfers increased farmland by 36 per cent, and with that the use of seeds, fertilisers and hired labour, which resulted in stronger market engagement, and prompted the use of more agricultural inputs.

The country recorded an overall production increase of 36 per cent. Furthermore, the majority of programmes show a significant increase in secondary school enrolment and in spending on school uniforms and shoes.

Cash transfers... are they more than just hand-outs?. Photo: FAO

Cash transfers… are they more than just hand-outs?. Photo: FAO

Myth: Cash causes dependency and laziness.

Reality: In several countries, including Malawi and Zambia, research shows a reduction in casual wage labour and a shift to more productive and on-farm activities.

In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa cash transfers lead to positive multiplier effects in local economies and significantly boost growth and development in rural areas.

Thus, cash does not create dependency, but rather spurs beneficiaries to invest more in agriculture and to work more.

Myth: Transfers lead to price inflation and disrupt local economies.

Reality: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were all part of the Protection to Production project, which, among other things, analysed the productive and economic impacts of cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

None of the seven case study countries experienced inflation.

Beneficiaries represent only a small share of the community (15 to 20 per cent), and because they come from the poorest households and have a low purchasing power, they do not buy enough to affect market prices, thus enabling local economies to meet the increased demand.

In Ethiopia, for every dollar transferred by the programme, about 1.5 dollars are generated for the local economy.

Myth: Child-focused grants increase fertility.

Reality: In Zambia, cash transfers showed no impact on fertility. In Kenya, adolescent pregnancy even decreased by 34 per cent and in South Africa by over 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, FAO, together with its partners, continues to generate evidence on the impacts of social protection interventions to reduce poverty and hunger.

Findings have shown that the implementation of such programmes leads to increased food consumption, better nutrition, improved school enrolment, reduced child labour, economic development, agricultural investment and many other benefits, it says.

“Cash transfer programmes have become an increasingly important tool in finding the path out of poverty and have contributed to making a long-term impact on the lives of many families.”

So far, so good.

The fact, however, is that there are still almost a billion people who still live in extreme poverty (less than 1.25 US dollar per person per day) and 795 million still suffer from chronic hunger, according to this UN leading agency in the filed of food and agriculture.

“Most of the extreme poor live in rural areas of developing countries and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods… They are so poor and malnourished that their families live in a cycle of poverty that passes from generation to generation.”

What About Women?

The case of women is particularly flagrant – although representing nearly half of all rural workers worldwide, with peaks of up to 60 per cent in some developing countries—they have always been among the poorest of the poor.

FAO informs that their main goal is economic growth rather than the economic empowerment of their beneficiaries –-who are usually ultra-poor people; however, evidence of their development impacts is contributing to a shift in how policy-makers perceive these programmes.

On the specific case of women, it says that in many countries, the majority of cash transfers beneficiaries are poor and vulnerable women.

“As a result, it is often claimed that cash transfers have an empowering effect on women based on the assumption that, as the main recipients of the transfers, women gain greater control over financial resources.

Nevertheless, “available evidence on empowerment outcomes is far from being conclusive, particularly as to whether cash transfers actually improve women’s bargaining power and decision-making in the household.”

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Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0 Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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When Your Healers Become Your Killershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/when-your-healers-become-your-killers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-your-healers-become-your-killers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/when-your-healers-become-your-killers/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 14:10:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148473 Since the introduction of penicillin in the middle of the 20th century, antimicrobial treatments have been used not only in human medicine but in veterinary care as well. But their excessive use in livestock (and aquaculture) contaminates the environment and contributes to a rise of resistant microorganisms, posing threats to human health, animal health, food security and people’s livelihoods. Photo: FAO

Since the introduction of penicillin in the middle of the 20th century, antimicrobial treatments have been used not only in human medicine but in veterinary care as well. But their excessive use in livestock (and aquaculture) contaminates the environment and contributes to a rise of resistant microorganisms, posing threats to human health, animal health, food security and people’s livelihoods. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

There is a major though silent global threat to human and animal health, with implications for both food safety and food security and the economic well-being of millions of farming households. It is so-called anti-microbial resistance.

The problems arises from the indiscriminate, excessive use of synthetic products, such as anti-microbial medicines, to kill diseases in the agricultural and food systems, which may be a major conduit of the anti-microbial resistance (AMR) that causes 700,000 human deaths each year and has the potential to raise this number to up to 10 million annually.

AMR is a natural phenomenon of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are no longer sensitive to the effects of antimicrobial medicines, like antibiotics, that were previously effective in treating infections.

Nevertheless, commercial practices meant to increase benefits have been leading to the dramatic fact that these drugs are more and more used to practically solely promote animal growth. "Anti-microbial Resistance has the potential to be even more deadly than cancer, to kill as many as 10 million people a year" – UN

“The world is in the midst of a different kind of public health emergency, one that is just as dramatic but not as visible. Except for the headline-grabbing ‘superbugs’, anti-microbial resistance (AMR) doesn’t cause much public alarm,” the heads of three international organisations dealing with human and animal health have warned in a joint article published in the Huffington Post.

AMR Could Be More Deadly than Cancer

“But AMR has the potential to be even more deadly than cancer, to kill as many as 10 million people a year and, according to a recent review undertaken by the United Kingdom, to cost the world economy as much as 100 trillion dollars annually,” added the Directors-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

According to them, if left unchecked, AMR will make chemotherapy and common dental and surgical procedures increasingly risky, as infectious complications become difficult or impossible to treat. The gains in health and longer lives of the 20th century are at stake.

In addition to the growing high number of human deaths each year that are estimated to be related to anti-microbial resistant infections, the AMR further poses a major threat to food safety and security, livelihoods, animal health and welfare, economic and agricultural development worldwide, warn United Nations specialised agencies.

FAO's Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

FAO’s Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

The global use of synthetic products to indiscriminately kill bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi in agricultural and food systems requires a concerted effort to map, understand and mitigate the risks of AMR, says FAO.

While anti-microbial resistance was first described in 1940, scientific understanding of the myriad of pathways by which resistance emerges and spreads remains in its infancy, according to its report titled Drivers, Dynamics and Epidemiology of Antimicrobial Resistance in Animal Production.

AMR may be a natural genomic process for bacteria, but it was very rare in clinical isolates predating the introduction of antibiotics, the 67-page technical report notes.

Food Contaminated with Antibiotic Resistants

“As foods from around the globe are today frequently contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli and Salmonella, measures which encourage the prudent use of antimicrobials are likely to be extremely useful in reducing the emergence and spread of AMR.”

In view of this growing health challenge, three international organisations –FAO, WHO and the World Organisation for Animal Health — held last November a World Antibiotic Awareness Week to raise awareness of one of the biggest threats to global health.

The report summarises the magnitude of AMR in the food and especially the livestock sector, which is expected to account for two-thirds of future growth in antimicrobial usage.

The need to support and pursue more research — involving both molecular sequencing and epidemiological analyses — into factors influencing how and why resistant bacteria become incorporated into human and animal gut micro-biomes as well as the need to create standardised monitoring procedures and databases so that adequate risk-assessment models can be built, are some of the report’s recommendations.

Use of anti-microbials solely to promote animal growth should be phased out, the UN agency stressed. Instead, alternatives to antibiotics to enhance animal health — including enhanced vaccination programmes — should be more vigorously pursued.

Antimicrobial Residues in the Environment

Antimicrobial residues in the environment, especially in water sources, should be tracked in the same way as other hazardous substances, the report urges.

“Given our current limited knowledge of transmission pathways, options to mitigate the global spread of AMR involve controlling its emergence in various environments, and minimizing the opportunities for AMR to spread along what may be the most important routes.”

While cautious about how much remains unknown, the report’s authors — experts form the Royal Veterinary College in London and FAO experts led by Juan Lubroth — highlight compelling evidence of the scale of the threat.

For instance, U.S. honeybees have different gut bacteria than is found elsewhere, reflecting the use of tetracycline in hives since the 1950s.

Fish farms in the Baltic Sea show fewer AMR genes than aquaculture systems in China, which are now reservoirs of genes encoding resistance to quinolones — a critical human medicine whose use has grown because of increasing resistance to older anti-microbials such as tetracycline.

The recent detection of resistance to colistin, until recently considered a last-ditch antibiotic in human medicine, in several countries also underscores the need to scrutinise livestock practices, as the drug has been used for decades in pigs, poultry, sheep, cattle and farmed fish.

What to Do?

The report focuses on livestock because future demand for animal-based protein is expected to accelerate intensive operations — where animals in close contact multiply the potential incidence of AMR pathogens.

A poultry operation in Egypt. Good hygiene on farms can help stem the rise of AMR due to over-reliance on anti-microbials. FAO

A poultry operation in Egypt. Good hygiene on farms can help stem the rise of AMR due to over-reliance on anti-microbials. FAO

Poultry, the world’s primary animal protein source, followed by pork, are important food-based vehicles of AMR transmission to humans.

Cases in Tanzania and Pakistan also demonstrate the risk of AMR coming from integrated aquaculture systems that use farm and poultry waste as fish food.

As animals metabolise only a small fraction of the antimicrobial agents they ingest, the spread of anti-microbials from animal waste is an important concern, it says.

While smallholder systems may rely less on anti-microbials, they often use over-the-counter drugs without veterinary advice. Inappropriate, sub-lethal, dosing promotes genetic and phenotypic variability among the exposed bacteria that survive.

Finally, the report says that working collaboratively across all sectors and aspects of food production, from farm to table, will provide an essential contribution to an integrated one-health approach to combat AMR.

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Bangladesh’s Women Journalists Rise Against the Oddshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:44:10 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148466 Wahida Zaman of United News of Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of Wahida Zaman.

Wahida Zaman of United News of Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of Wahida Zaman.

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

Journalism is a profession that attracts both sexes, but social taboos and hostile office climates have kept the numbers of women working in Bangladesh’s media sector dismally low. Still, a new generation of women is stepping up, with the support of their path-breaking colleagues.

According to an October 2016 report by senior female journalist Shahnaz Munni of News 24, a private TV channel in Bangladesh, women journalists in Bangladesh’s media industry account for only 5 percent in print and 25 percent in electronic media.“You have to face some obstacles, some real challenges. And they start straight from your own home." --Wahida Zaman

Braving these odds and obstacles, young female graduates are increasingly joining the profession. Wahida Zaman, for example, recently joined United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent wire service, as an apprentice sub-editor.

“Unlike many other classmates of mine, both male and female, I chose to study journalism by choice. Before being a journalist, I was actually a photographer. Nothing thrills me more than the thought that journalism can give me all these opportunities in one package,” Zaman told IPS.

“I can go to places, meet new people, get to know new stories — stories of both successful and unsuccessful people, and of course take lots of photographs. That’s how my dream of being a journalist started blooming.”

But, she said, being a woman and a journalist at the same time is not so easy in real life. “You have to face some obstacles, some real challenges. And they start straight from your own home,” Zaman added.

There is often resistance among family members, who want their women to be ‘safe’, she said.

“First of all you’ll have to convince your family that journalism is not a ‘risky’ profession at all for you. In our society, you’ll often get undermined for being a woman. You cannot go far because you’re a woman, you cannot move alone because you’re a woman, you cannot work at late night because you’re a woman, you cannot be brave enough to do investigative reporting because you’re a woman — and excuses keep coming.”

Nadia Sharmeen, a reporter at Ekattor TV, a private television channel in Bangladesh, came under attack in 2013 while covering a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, for Ekushey Television, her previous workplace, in the capital Dhaka.

Sharmeen, who won the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in 2015, told the IPS that women in Bangladesh face challenges in all sectors. “Threats and intimidation have been part of this profession for women,” she said.

Hailing from Bagerhat, a remote southwestern district of Bangladesh, she said she enjoys the full support of her family in pursuing her career.

Sanchita Sharma, a news editor with Boishakhi Television, said the atmosphere for female journalists in Bangladesh is better now than at any time before and their numbers are growing — but are still not satisfactory.

Sharma said one problem is that women still focus on being news presenters rather than reporters or copy editors, which can help them get elevated to top positions.

Sanchita Sharma of Boishakhi Television. Photo Courtesy of Sanchita Sharma.

Sanchita Sharma of Boishakhi Television. Photo Courtesy of Sanchita Sharma.

Apart from social problems, a common challenge for women journalists is they have to manage both their homes and their offices. “It’s a double trouble for them,” she said.

Regarding the Bangladesh National Press Club, Sharma said the men who dominate its Executive Committee are reluctant to grant membership to women. “It’s very painful that women account for only 54 among the Club’s 1,218 members,” she said.

Echoing Sharma, Rashada Akhter Shimul, a Joint News Editor at Somoy TV, said male journalists misinterpret the successes and promotions of their female counterparts with concocted juicy stories.

She said their male bosses can be unnecessarily tough in putting their female colleagues on night shifts. “They (male bosses) can easily spare us from nightshift duty if there is no emergency, but they don’t. That’s why many promising girls are quitting the profession.”

Every profession has hazards, but in journalism this is disheartening, particularly for women. “Things are improving, but slowly,” she said.

Shimul said male bosses also undermine female journalists and ignore them when it comes to covering important and challenging news beats like that of crime and PMO (the Prime Minister’s Office).

Shahiduzzaman, Editor of News Network, a leading non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, said the atmosphere in Bangladesh for female journalists is still far from ideal.

Shahiduzzaman, also a Representative and Senior Adviser for South Asia with Inter Press Service (IPS), said it was the News Network that first came forward in the mid-1990s to provide journalism training to female university graduates by offering them fellowships.

He said News Network has so far provided training to nearly 300 young and upcoming women journalists with support from donors like Diakonia, Free Press, USAID, Ford Foundation, Norad, Canadian International Development Agency, The World Bank and Janata Bank, a public sector local bank. And 60 percent of them are now working in the country’s mainstream media. “Sanchita and Shimul are among them,” he mentioned.

Stressing the importance of gender equity in Bangladesh’s media industry, Shahiduzzaman said a very few of the 5 percent female journalists hold policymaking positions, which is necessary for to make far-reaching changes.

Regretting that there are hardly any female journalists at the country’s district level, the News Network editor said widespread training programmes are needed to encourage female young graduates to take up journalism as their profession.

“We can do even better if we can get support from donors as in the past,” he said.

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“Soares Is Dead: Long Live Soares!” Cries Portugalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 16:12:25 +0000 Mario Dujisin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148459 Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

By Mario Dujisin
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

The death of Mario Soares, former Portuguese prime-minister, president, and historic leader of Lusitanian socialism, demonstrated just how united the Portuguese are with regards to his past and his historical projection.

Analysts, politicians and foreign journalists have also pointed out that the degree of Soares’ international reputation and prestige was never matched by any other Portuguese public figure.Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

Even his most ardent political opponents have paid homage to him, naming Soares as the undisputed patriarch of democracy. For his role during the democratization process up until his death last Saturday at age 92, Soares was considered a kind of “Father of the Nation”, in its 1974 democratic-constitutional incarnation.

With his death, Europe says goodbye to the last of the great leaders that marked the second half of the twentieth century, a condition he shares with figures of the caliber of Willy Brandt, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monet, Jacques Delors, Olof Palme, Helmuth Kohl, François Mitterrand and Helmuth Schmidt.

During the 1950s the young Lisbon lawyer began to distinguish himself, as noted in a file of the International and State Defense Police (PIDE), the repressive arm of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s corporatist dictatorship. In the file, Soares is described as a “defender of communists and terrorists of the overseas provinces,” the official denomination for the Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and the Far East.

From defender to actor, Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

He went through PIDE concentration camps in the former African island colonies of Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, right before heading for France in a long and forced exile. This was to be his last residence before his return to Portugal with the triumph of the “Captain’s Revolution” on April 25th 1974.

During the ensuing revolutionary period pro-communist and radical military sectors took center stage, allowing Soares to side with the moderate left.

The political battle was settled by late 1975, as Soares defeated the most revolutionary sectors of the Armed Forces. The latter lacked external support in a Europe where Conservatives, Socialists and Social Democrats shared fears of Portugal becoming communist.

When PS won the 1976 elections, Soares became the first head of a democratically-elected government, famously admitting his tenure “for some time, will put socialism in the drawer.”

It was his role in the Portuguese democratization process that earned him the title of “father of the nation”.

Until the death of his wife Maria de Jesus Barroso in July 2015, Soares was lucid and in good physical shape. He was frequently spotted climbing the many stairs and alleys of Lisbon with admirable agility.

Over the years, he increasingly shifted leftwards and became critical of neoliberal globalization, while also taking part in public demonstrations against the Iraq invasion or previously against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its attack on Serbia.

He never forgave Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder for promoting the so-called “Third Way”, which according to Soares dealt a fatal blow to the socialist and social democratic project for Europe.

His opinion articles, published weekly in various Portuguese media, were translated into Spanish by IPS columnist service and published in several countries.

The death of his lifelong companion was unbearable to him, sending him on a steady path of deterioration that increased on a day to day basis.

In a message addressed to the Portuguese government and Soares’ family, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Portugal “owes its democracy, freedom and respect for fundamental rights to Mario Soares.”

His legacy, concluded the UN head, “far exceeds Portugal’s borders,” describing Soares as “one of the few political leaders of true European and world stature.”

Analysts agree Soares’ main trait, which accompanied him throughout his life, was the he never shied away from a political battle. And in that battle, he always stood on the same side of the trench: that of democracy, freedom, and unconditional support for human rights.

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Mário Soares, a Rebel with a Cause – Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:07:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148456 Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By an IPS Correspondent
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

Hardly a leader could reap so much respect, even from most relentless political rivals, both throughout his life and after his death on Jan 7 at the age of 92, like Portuguese Mário Soares.

Characterised as “an indefatigable political animal,” by the New York Times, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the commitment to freedom and democracy that made Soares “one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature.”

The UN chief, who is himself Portuguese, said Soares has left an “indelible mark” on political life in Portugal, the result of his “steadfast and courageous political commitment and the principles and values that he consistently pursued throughout his life. Liberty was always his foundational value.”

Soares Legacy Goes Far Beyond Portugal – UN Chief

To a great extent, Guterres said, we are indebted to him for the democracy, the freedom and the respect for fundamental rights that all Portuguese have been able to enjoy in recent decades, and that are today established values in our country.”

Paying tribute to Soares, “who will, I am certain, remain in our memory and in the history of our country as a man of freedom, who wanted all to live in liberty, and fought for his entire life to realize that hope,” the UN Secretary-General added that the late leader’s legacy goes far beyond Portugal.

Indeed, this is not only because Soares was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature,” concluded Guterres.

Mário Soares was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1976 to 1978 in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that ended decades of right-wing dictatorship. He returned as PM in the early 1980s, and served as Portugal’s president between 1986 and 1996.

After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal’s democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

The Carnation Revolution

Soares played a key role after the 1974 Carnation Revolution –a military-led coup that soon turned in a massive popular movement of civil protest characterised by carnations that were handed out and placed in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles and tanks—that put an end to 48 years of Salazar rule.

A fierce critic of the military Junta that ruled Portugal for the next two years, Soares in 1976 became the first post-war democratically elected prime minister.

Soares spearheaded the country’s entry into the European Union. But, in recent years, he became a vocal critic of the austerity policies associated with the massive euro-zone bailout Portugal sought in 2011.

He left the presidency in 1996 after the maximum tenure in the office permitted under the constitution, with his popularity at a peak. For years, he remained one of the country’s most influential politicians.

He ran again for president in 2006 at the age of 82, but finished in third.

“President Mário Soares was born and graduated to be a fighter, to have a cause to fight – freedom,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said. “Soares never gave up on a free Portugal, a free Europe, a free world and what was decisive… he was always victorious.”

IPS President and Member of International Board of Trustees

As part of his unflagging commitment to freedom –in this case freedom of expression—lawyer, historian and politician Mário Soares, chaired the International Board of Trustees of Inter Press Service (IPS).

He graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences in 1951 and in Law in 1957 at Lisbon University. He taught at a private secondary school and was director of the Colégio Moderno, in Lisbon.

Soares practised law for some years and during his exile in France he was “Chargé de Cours” at Vincennes University and at the Sorbonne. He was associate professor at the Faculty of Arts of Haute Bretagne (Rennes).

More recently, he was guest professor in International Relations at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra.

Mário Soares was the fourth president of IPS International Board of Trustees, succeeding the agency’s founder, Roberto Savio; former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu. UNESCO’s former director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, succeeded Mario Soares as president of IPS International Board of Trustees.

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Trump, the Banks and the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148435 Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 7 2017 (IPS)

When pro-nuclear disarmament organisations last October cheered the United Nations decision to start in 2017 negotiations on a global treaty banning these weapons, they probably did not expect that shortly after the US would elect Republican businessman Donald Trump as their 45th president. Much less that he would rush to advocate for increasing the US nuclear power.

The United Nations on Oct. 27, 2016 adopted a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, putting an end to two decades of paralysis in world nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, 38 against it and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March 2017, which will be open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July this year.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a “fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.”

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

European Parliament’s Resolution

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour, 124 against, 74 abstentions– inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in the 2017 year’s negotiations, ICAN noted.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts, the anti-nuke campaign chief warned.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s [Oct. 27, 2016] vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament.”

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

ICAN also recalls that nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. “Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernisation of their nuclear forces.”

Other pro-nuclear disarmament organisations also welcomed the UN resolution. They included PAX, a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi; Soka Gakai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organisation that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life; and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), just to mention a few.

US Must Greatly Strengthen, Expand Its Nuclear Capability – Trump

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

The global ani-nuke movment, however, soon saw its joy being frustrated by the US president-elect Donald Trump, who in a tweet on Dec. 22, 2016, wrote:

Donald J. Trump Verified account ‏@realDonaldTrump : “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

Trump’s announcement, if materialised, would imply one of the most insourmountable hardles facing the world anti-nuclear movement.

Is Your Bank Funding Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, the international campaign to prevent private banks and financial companies from funding the production and modernisation of nuclear weapons has achieved a further step forward.

“Governments have decided to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and now is the time for banks, pension funds and insurance companies to get ready and end financial relations with companies involved in nuclear weapons,” says Susi Snyder from PAX and author of a the Hall of Fame report.

“Around 400 private banks, pension funds and insurance companies continue to fund –with their clients’ money– the production of nuclear weapons.”

According to this study, 18 banks, controlling over 1.7 trillion Euros, are ready not to collaborate in the funding of atomic weapons, with policies that strictly prohibit any investment of any type in any kind of nuclear weapon-producing company.

These 18 banks are profiled in the Hall of Fame of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb 2016 edition, which was issued on Dec. 7, 2016. These Hall of Fame institutions are based in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report also shows there are another 36 financial institutions with policies that specifically name nuclear weapons as a concern, and limit investment in some ways.

“Even though these policies have loopholes, they still demonstrate there is a stigma associated with investments in nuclear weapons. PAX calls on these institutions to strengthen their policies and Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers tailored recommendations for each financial institute in the Runners-Up.”

Investments are not neutral, warns the report. “Financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of a company and its plans. Institutions imposing limitations on investing in nuclear weapons producers are responding to the growing stigma against these weapons, designed to kill indiscriminately.”

All of the nuclear-armed countries are modernising their nuclear weapon arsenals, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb details how 27 private companies are producing key components to make nuclear weapons as well as the 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon-producing companies, the report adds.

“As a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is to be negotiated in 2017, states should include a prohibition on financing to provide an added incentive for the financial industry to exclude nuclear weapon associated companies from their investment universe, and raise the economic cost of nuclear weapons deployment, stockpiling and modernisation.”

Some Striking Facts about Nukes

The International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons summarises the most striking facts about this weapon of mass destruction:

Which countries have nuclear weapons and how many?

What are their effects on health and the environment?

Who supports a global ban on nuclear weapons?

What are the most significant events of the nuclear age?

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