Inter Press Service » Fostering Global Citizenship News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 18:27:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.N.’s New Development Goals Need Funds, Political Commitment for Success Mon, 28 Sep 2015 15:54:57 +0000 Thalif Deen sdgs_25_27_red

By Thalif Deen

The U.N.’s much-ballyhooed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), unanimously adopted by over 150 world leaders at a three-day summit meeting, which concluded Sep. 27, has been touted as the biggest single contribution to humanity since the invention of sliced bread.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Summit, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the 17 SDGs as an integral part of a post-2015 development agenda to end poverty in all its forms.

“The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation. We need action from everyone, everywhere. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our guide. They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success,” said Ban.

But what does it really take to ensure the SDGs are implemented over the next 15 years so that the world will witness a radical transformation of global society, including the elimination of poverty, hunger, gender discrimination, spreading diseases and environmental degradation — all by the year 2030.

Political will? Increased domestic resources and official development assistance (ODA)? A rise in private sector investments? Or all of it?

Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, one of the co-facilitators of the SDGs inter-governmental consultative process, told reporters last month the implementation of the agenda could cost a staggering 3.5 trillion to 5.0 trillion dollars per year.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: “The new Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious on paper – and they could be historic in their impact. They seek to go beyond band-aid solutions by setting out to eradicate – not just reduce – extreme poverty and hunger in every country.”

“The key is to welcome the richest people back in touch with the rest of society, rather than allowing them to exist on the margins of privilege,” she added.

Leida Rijnhout, Director of Global Policies and Sustainability at the European Environmental Bureau, (in New York) said the 17 goals have the potential to push for higher ambitions and more coherence in policymaking, although the goal of ‘sustained economic growth’ could undermine the others.

“It is clear that the Earth’s carrying capacity is not increasing and that some countries need to substantially decrease their resource use to achieve more equitable sharing of resources and to allow other countries to develop and meet basic needs.”

“We are massively over-consuming in Europe at the expense of the climate and the development of poorer countries – a trend that is causing increasing conflicts over ever scarcer resources.”

The European Commission, she said, has the perfect chance when it reviews the Europe 2020 Strategy and the EU Sustainable Development Strategy to come up soon with an action plan for the implementation of the SDGs that shows it has understood the goals and the need to change track.
Asked if SDGs are realistic and implementable over the next 15 years, Zubair Sayed, Head of Communication and Campaigns at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS the SDGs are much wider in scope than the MDGs and are also universal in scope which means they apply to both developed and developing countries.

There are two issues, however, with regard to their implementation, he pointed out.

“Do states have the means and more importantly, do they have the will to implement them,” he asked.

What will be common in all contexts is that their success will depend on the political will of governments to take them seriously, to include transformative targets in their national development plans, to put the necessary resources behind them and to include citizens and civil society in all aspects of the design, implementation and monitoring, he noted.

“It’s also important that relevant indicators are identified by the international community to underpin the targets.”

Asked what is most needed through 2030, Sayed told IPS the success of the SDG’s will depend on the extent to which decision makers take them seriously and commit to their implementation through the setting of transformative national targets and committing financial resources to achieve them, the full and meaningful involvement of citizens in setting targets, reporting, and monitoring progress, and the inclusion of civil society as an equal partner in multilateral forums and processes.

The mobilisation of public opinion to ensure meaningful implementation of the goals by leaders will also be critical, he added.

Yolanda Kakabadse, President of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International, said “most importantly in the coming months, countries need to figure out how they’re going to contribute to achieving these goals and set benchmarks and indicators so they can report on their efforts.”

“We’re in the race and can finally see the finish line – but we need some runners at the starting line if we’re going to make this happen in 15 years.”

Every country is required to develop national indicators and programmes of implementation through individual development plans, she pointed out.

In March, countries will crucially agree a set of indicators that will allow the UN to report annually on global progress in coming years.

“The indicator question will be challenging, but if countries can unite to solve the financial crisis, they can figure this out. The crucial part will be working together and being as transparent with data as possible,” said Kakabadse.

Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of World Resources Institute said the SDGs are a remarkable achievement that set a bold new agenda for international development.

Reflecting profound changes in the world, the new SDGs apply to all countries and importantly put environmental sustainability at their core.

“The SDGs recognize that we cannot eradicate extreme poverty and ensure lasting economic growth without also caring for the planet,” he noted.

“Fortunately, there are a growing number of examples where poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand. This includes creating compact cities that focus on people, restoring degraded land, expanding access to low-carbon energy, and many more.

“Of course, it’s not enough to have good goals. Now, it’s up to governments – and others in the private sector, international organizations, and civil society – to follow through on this vision. By setting smart policies, encouraging sustainable investment, and measuring progress, countries can put us on a path to achieve these goals.

“If successful, the SDGs will usher in a radical shift in development. We can move away from today’s imbalanced approach to one that benefits all people and protects the planet at the same time.

Adriano Campolina, chief executive at ActionAid, told IPS the SDGs are a step forward as they identify the causes of poverty, “but unless we change the rules that govern the global system, the same players will keep winning.”

“We need to build a more just future for all people and the planet where it’s no longer just money that talks and the gaps in society are narrower.”

“We need to make sure that people living in poverty around the world benefit from these new development goals. Massive corporate investments alone will not guarantee a reduction in poverty and inequality. Governments must change the rules of the game and stop looking to the corporate sector for all the answers. We urgently need to address inequality if these new development goals are to stand a chance of succeeding in the next 15 years.”

The SDGs, proposed by an Open Working Group comprising all 193 U.N.member states, are the result of a three-year-long transparent, participatory process inclusive of all stakeholders and people’s voices.

The 17 SDGs and 169 targets of the new agenda will be monitored and reviewed using a set of global indicators. The global indicator framework, to be developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, will be agreed on by the UN Statistical Commission by March 2016.

The writer can be contacted at

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U.N. Marks Humanitarian Day Battling Its Worst Refugee Crisis Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:42:44 +0000 Thalif Deen Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations is commemorating World Humanitarian Day with “inspiring” human interest stories of survival – even as the world body describes the current refugee crisis as the worst for almost a quarter of a century.

The campaign, mostly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is expected to flood social media feeds with stories of both resilience and hope from around the world, along with a musical concert in New York.“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it's simply not enough to meet the growing needs.” -- Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam

“It’s true we live in a moment in history where there’s never been a greater need for humanitarian aid since the United Nations was founded,” says U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

“And every day, I talk about people and I use numbers, and the numbers are numbing, right — 10,000, 50,000,” he laments.

But as U.N. statistics go, the numbers are even more alarming than meets the eye: more than 4.0 million Syrians are now refugees in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon (not including the hundreds who are dying in mid-ocean every week as they try to reach Europe and escape the horrors of war at home).

And more troubling, at least an additional 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria – all of them in need of humanitarian assistance—and over 220,000 have been killed in a military conflict now on its fifth year.

The U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said “with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced around the world, we face a crisis on a scale not seen in generations.”

In early August, O’Brien decided to release some 70 million dollars from a U.N. reserve fund called the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) – primarily for chronically underfunded aid operations.

Besides Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, the humanitarian crisis has also impacted heavily on Sudan, South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, Chad, the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Bangladesh, among others.

Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response at Oxfam International, told IPS the international humanitarian system created decades ago has saved countless lives but today, the humanitarian system is “overwhelmed and underfunded” at a time when natural hazards are projected to increase in both frequency and severity at the same time as the world must respond to unprecedented protracted crises like the conflict in Syria.

“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it’s simply not enough to meet the growing needs,” he said.

The United Nations and the greater humanitarian system, he pointed out, needs to be reformed to be more efficient and to better respond to needs by supporting local leadership and capacity and funding programmes that help communities reduce the impact of disasters before emergencies occur.

Meanwhile, the #ShareHumanity social media campaign, currently underway, hopes to build momentum towards the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in Istanbul next May.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this year’s World Humanitarian Day campaign, beginning Aug. 19, reflects a world where humanitarian needs are far outstripping the aid community’s capacity to help the millions of people affected by natural disasters, conflict, hunger and disease.

Oxfam’s Gottschalk told IPS World Humanitarian Day is an important opportunity to stop and honour the brave women and men who work tirelessly around the world every day to save lives in incredibly difficult circumstances.

He said local humanitarian workers are often the first to respond when a crisis hits and rarely get the recognition, and most importantly, the support they deserve to lead responses in their own countries.

Oxfam has been making a strong push for mandatory contributions from U.N. Member States to fund humanitarian responses, which it says, will provide a more consistent and robust funding stream.

More of that funding should flow directly to the local level, and be allocated more transparently so that donors can track impact and local communities can follow the aid and hold their leaders accountable and demand results, he noted.

Gottschalk said millions of people around the world depend on the global humanitarian system, and this is in no small part due to the committed and compassionate people who are struggling to make the system work despite declining resources and increasing need.

These reforms will make the system more effective and better equip these dedicated humanitarians to save lives and ease suffering, he declared.

The ongoing military conflicts have also claimed the lives of hundreds of health workers, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.

In 2014 alone, WHO said it received reports of 372 attacks in 32 countries on health workers, resulting in 603 deaths and 958 injuries, while similar incidents have been recorded this year.

“WHO is committed to saving lives and reducing suffering in times of crisis. Attacks against health care workers and facilities are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, in a statement released to mark World Humanitarian Day.

She said health workers have an obligation to treat the sick and injured without discrimination. “ All parties to conflict must respect that obligation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racism Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.N. Taps Private Sector to Fund Development, Advocate Social Causes Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:56:58 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the International Business Forum of the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development, hosted by the Ffd Business Sector Steering Committee. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the International Business Forum of the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development, hosted by the Ffd Business Sector Steering Committee. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

When the United Nations seeks outside financial assistance either for development needs or to advocate social causes, it invariably turns to the private sector these days.

Perhaps the most demanding is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal to private investors to help the United Nations reach its 100-billion-dollar target per year to battle the devastating consequences of climate change.“We believe that youth can make a difference, especially in the achievement of the post 2015 agenda: but giving voice to them is not enough. It is important to give new generations the tools to make a change.” -- Mariarosa Cutillo of Benetton

But critics have urged the United Nations to double-check the credentials of some of these companies — on issues such as human rights, fair wages, child labour and environmental record — before deciding to collaborate.

Still, on a more modest scale, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) received over 135 million dollars in funds from the business sector between 2009 and 2013 for some of its projects relating to water, energy, healthcare, agriculture and finance and information technology.

A South African company called Mediclave has provided sterilising machines that decontaminate used medical equipment and waste, such as syringes, personal protective suits and gloves, used in treating communicable diseases.

In Liberia, a Japanese company, Panasonic, has distributed its first batch of 240 solar lanterns to health workers in Monrovia, allowing them to work at night.

The UNDP also has a partnership with Svani Group Limited, a Ghanaian vehicle dealership, which has provided over eight armoured vehicles deployed to the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

And more recently, the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), created under the aegis of the Department of Public Information (DPI) has collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues”, including racial intolerance and xenophobia.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton, a global fashion brand based in Italy.

Benetton has also teamed with U.N. Women in its intense campaign to eliminate gender violence worldwide.

Nanette Braun Chief, Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women, told IPS Benetton’s UnHate Foundation has been supporting U.N. Women in its advocacy on ending violence against women for the past two years through advertising and social media campaigns.

“We hope to expand the partnership and collaboration in the future,” she added.

Asked about Benetton’s role in advocating U.N. causes, Mariarosa Cutillo, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Benetton Group in Milan, told IPS the main reason is “because, first of all, this is an integral part of the DNA of our company, which has always been in the frontline – often in provocative and very progressive ways – on social issues, including the fight against any form of intolerance and discrimination.”

She pointed out this approach has been consolidated through social projects and communication campaigns, and has been translated also through the establishment of the UnHate Foundation.

Since 2011, the Foundation representing one of the arms of the company has developed social programmes to fight against hate in all its forms, while supporting youth leadership.

“We believe that youth can make a difference, especially in the achievement of the post 2015 agenda: but giving voice to them is not enough. It is important to give new generations the tools to make a change.”

With the UnHate news initiative, in partnership with UNAI/DPI, “we activated youth and gave them a possibility to concretely develop projects on human rights and development.”

Cutillo also cited “another outstanding example of successful support and activation of youth promoted by UnHate Foundation, which is the ‘Unemployee of the Year’ initiative through which the Foundation financed 100 projects and start-ups submitted and implemented by youth coming from all over the world in 2012.”

Unemployee of the Year celebrated young people’s ingenuity, creativity, and their ability to create new smart ways of addressing the problem of unemployment.

In general, she said, “putting people at the centre of our activities is one of the key points of Benetton Group sustainability strategy, of which UnHate Foundation is one of the assets.”

She described it as an example of private/public partnership that can work in an innovative way, by activating new generations and giving them the means to become leaders of change.

Asked if Benetton is planning to get involved in any other U.N. sponsored events in the future,

Cutillo told IPS: “We are presently exploring further joint possible collaboration programmes for the future with UNAI/DPI.”

She also said Benetton has a record of 20 years of cooperation, in different ways, with the United Nations.

More than ever before, “Benetton finds the United Nations as a most crucial partner within the stakeholders’ engagement of our present sustainability strategy.”

She said she sees partnerships with U.N. agencies as “a mutual growth process in our respective roles, where we can bring an active contribution to the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) by putting in place partnerships that can bring an innovative approach and a real, concrete impact.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Fire Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Multilingualism Opens Doors to the World Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:59:22 +0000 Nora Happel Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel

On Friday, 67 student essay winners from 42 different countries convened at the United Nations General Assembly to present their essays at the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum.

The students were selected as winners of the Many Languages, One World International Essay Contest among a pool of over 1,250 participants.

Participating students were required to write a 2,000-word essay on a topic related to the post-2015 development agenda in any of the official U.N. languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – the condition being that the language chosen was not the participant’s first language or primary language of instruction during pre-university study.

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language.

The idea behind the contest, organised by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational Services, is to pay tribute to the impact and value of multilingualism and promote dialogue and debate with and among young people on the post-2015 development agenda.

“Multilingualism is a basic free condition for global citizenship because it enables citizens to understand the perspectives of other people in their languages as well as in their own. It is the only way to truly communicate with other people and reach a common understanding which is the basis for dialogue, debate, argumentation and reaching compromise,” Mark W. Harris, President and CEO of ELS Educational Services, said in his opening remarks.

Addressing the student winners of the contest, Hossein Maleki, Rapporteur of the U.N. General Assembly Committee on Information and First Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Iran to the U.N., added: “As winners of this contest on multilingualism, you embody key values of the United Nations. Implicit in the concept of multilingualism is respect for the plurality of civilisations and the necessity of dialogue between them.”

“When we reach to people in a language that is not our own, the whole world opens up to us.”

For the presentation of their essays, the students were divided up into six groups, according to the U.N. language in which they submitted their essay.

Each language group covered a different topic related to the post-2015 development framework, ranging from education, health, sustainable economic growth, inclusiveness and justice to water management and sanitation as well as nutrition and food security.

Among the numerous ideas and recommendations put forth by the students, emphasis was placed on the increased use of technology as a tool to reach rural areas, the value of scholarships and academic contests to encourage student performance and achievement, the added-value of healthy and sustainable lifestyles, including fair and just working conditions and the way individual consumer decisions can ultimately make a difference.

 Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’ Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:54:39 +0000 A. D. McKenzie A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
LIVERPOOL, England, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the curators.

“Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour,” they add.

Presented in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, the exhibition uses photographs, film, personal testimony and other means to show “stories of hardship” that include sexual servitude and child bondage. It also profiles the activists working to mend “broken lives”.“Museums [in Liverpool, Nantes, Guadeloupe and Bordeaux ] hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability”

The display occupies a temporary exposition space at the museum, which has a permanent section devoted to the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the legacy of racism.

Along with the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in the French city of Nantes and the recently opened Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe, the Liverpool museum is one of too few national institutions focused on raising awareness about slavery, observers say.

But it has provided a “vital source of inspiration” to permanent exhibitions on the slave trade in places such as Bordeaux, southwest France, according to the city’s mayor Alain Juppé. Here, the Musée d’Aquitaine hosts a comprehensive division called ‘Bordeaux, Trans-Atlantic Trading and Slavery’ – with detailed, unequivocal information.

These museums hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability.

“We try to overtly encourage the public to get involved in the fight for human rights,” Fleming told IPS in an interview. “We’ve often said at the Slavery Museum that we want people to go away fired up with the desire to fight racism.

“You can’t dictate to people what they’re going to think or how they’re going to respond and react,” he continued. “But you can create an atmosphere, and the atmosphere at the Slavery Museum is clearly anti-racist. We hope people will leave thinking: I didn’t know all those terrible things had happened and I’m leaving converted.”

Despite Liverpool’s undeniable history as a major slaving port in the 18th century, not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. There have been swastikas painted on the walls of the museum in the past, as bigots reject the institution’s aims.

“Some people come full of knowledge and full of attitude already, and I don’t imagine that we affect these people. But we’re looking for people in the middle, who might not have thought about this,” Fleming said.

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

He described a visit to the museum by a group of English schoolchildren who initially did not comprehend photographs depicting African youngsters whose hands had been cut off by colonialists.

When they were given explanations about the images, the schoolchildren “switched on to the idea that people can behave abominably, based on nothing but ethnicity,” he said.

Fleming visits social justice exhibitions around the world and gives information about the museum’s work, he said. As a keynote speaker, he recently delivered an address about the role of museums at a conference in Liverpool titled ‘Mobilising Memory: Creating African Atlantic Identities’.

The meeting – organised by the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and a new UK-based body called the Institute for Black Atlantic Research – took place at Liverpool Hope University at the end of June.

It began a few days after a white gunman killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the U.S. state of South Carolina.

The murders, among numerous incidents of brutality against African Americans over the past year, sparked a sense of urgency at the conference as well as heightened the discussion about activism – and especially the part that writers, artists and scholars play in preserving and “activating” memory in the struggle for social justice and human rights.

“Artists, and by extension museums, have what some people have called a ‘burden of representation’, and they have to deal with that,” said James Smalls, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Many times, artists automatically are expected to speak on behalf of their ethnic group or community, and some have chosen to embrace that while others try to be exempt,” he added.

Claire Garcia, a professor at Colorado College, said that for a number of academics “there is no necessary link between scholarship and activism” in what are considered scholarly fields.

Such thinkers make the point that scholarship should be “theoretical” and “universal,” and not political or focused on “the specific plights of one group,” she said. However, this standpoint – “when it is disconnected from the embattled humanity” of some ethnic groups – can create further problems.

The concept of museums standing for “social justice” is controversial as well because the issue is seen differently in various parts of the world. The line between “objectifying and educating” also gives cause for debate.

Fleming said that National Museums Liverpool, for example, would not have put on the contentious show “Exhibit B” – which featured live Black performers in a “human zoo” installation; the work was apparently aimed at condemning racism and slavery but instead drew protests in London, Paris and other cities in 2014.

“Personally I loathe all that stuff, so my vote would be ‘no’ to anything similar,” Fleming told IPS. “And that’s not because it’s controversial and difficult but because it’s degrading and humiliating. There are all sorts of issues with it, and I’ve thought about that quite a lot.”

He and other scholars say that they are deeply conscious of who is doing the “story-telling” of history, and this is an issue that also affects museums.

Several participants at the CAAR conference criticised certain displays at the International Slavery Museum, wondering about the intended audience, and who had selected the exhibits, for instance.

A section that showed famous individuals of African descent seemed superficial in its glossy presentation of people such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and well-known athletes and entertainers.

Fleming said that museums often face disapproval for both going too far and not going “far enough”. But taking a disinterested stand does not seem to be the answer, because “the world is full of ‘faux-neutral’ museums”, he said.

The most relevant and interesting museums can be those that have a “moral compass”, but they need help as they can “do very little by themselves,” Fleming told IPS. The institutions that he directs often work with non-governmental organisations that bring their own expertise and point of view to the exhibitions, he explained.

Apart from slavery, individual museums around the world have focused on the Holocaust, on apartheid, on genocide in countries such as Cambodia, and on the atrocities committed during dictatorships in regions such as Latin America.

“Some countries don’t want museums to change,” said Fleming. “But in Liverpool, we’re not just there for tourism.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale   

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Civil Society has Vital Role to Play in Post-2015 Development Agenda Wed, 08 Jul 2015 17:56:44 +0000 Nora Happel By Nora Happel

“The action of the private sector can make or break the post-2015 development agenda,” Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said in his opening remarks at a side event hosted in the context of a high-level political forum at the U.N. on Tuesday.

The event entitled “Involving civil society in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda” was organised by the European Economic and Social Committee, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs.

It brought together EU and U.N. officials, civil society stakeholders and business as well as trade union representatives to discuss the impact of civil society in sustainable development policies and deliberate on measures to promote further active involvement of civil society.

As emphasised throughout the event, “organised civil society” has a key role to play in realising the post-2015 development agenda.

The term “organised civil society” refers to all the groups and organisations that are independent from government and in which citizens come together to work cooperatively to advance their common interests.

Panelists made clear that after having contributed to a large extent to the conceptualisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scheduled to be adopted in September 2015, the further role of civil society is to engage in the implementation process and take part in review and monitoring procedures.

Vella also pointed to the impact businesses can make through concepts such as social responsibility and green economy in improving resource-efficiency, providing funding for infrastructure and protecting biodiversity.

According to him, customers too have an essential role to play by “making informed decisions about their lifestyle and the products that they choose”. These actions are complemented by trade unions’ and NGO’s advocacy for social protection, fair working conditions and sustainable development, while civil society in large has an important function in “holding us accountable”.

UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw drew particular attention to the fact that in many parts of the world, governments are lacking expertise and knowledge to successfully implement the SDG’s. By providing advocacy, science and knowledge, civil society organisations could make an important difference.

“While civil society organisations have no policy-making authority and authority to make decisions at the national level, they have a very important role in providing science and advocating for integrating science in policy-making,” he said.

Presenting the findings of a recent survey on mechanisms of engagement with key stakeholders, CIVICUS U.N. representative Jeffery Huffines raised awareness about the need for member states and the U.N. to provide financial support for stakeholders from marginalized communities to participate in relevant meetings, continue to develop online video streaming to allow for remote participation, improve coordination between relevant stakeholders and reassess current mechanisms of engagement to make sure they are representative of all stakeholders and not dominated by large organisations from the global North.

At the ensuing debate session, scepticism was expressed about the willingness of businesses to forgo short-term profit “in order for the planet to be saved”. But panelists showed optimism that the business community is increasingly accepting and implementing sustainability as customers expect it and governments require it.

According to Norine Kennedy, Vice President for Environmental Affairs at the U.S. Council for International Business, more sustainable, less wasteful and more efficient economic activities will also prove more competitive. Responsible businesses will “not be a utopia but actually the world of the future,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Books, Not Bullets,” Malala Yousafzai Urges at Oslo Summit Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:06:34 +0000 Aruna Dutt By Aruna Dutt

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai spoke Tuesday of her mission to bring 12 years of education to all children, rather than the previous goal of nine years, at the final day of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development.

At the July 6-7 summit, global leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the crisis of 59 million out of school children in the world.

Yousafzai said she believes that when it comes to the policy decisions being made in education, they need to be backed by goals which aim higher.

“If nine years of education is not enough for your children, then it is not enough for the rest of the world’s children,” Yousafzai told attendees.

She disputed the idea that there are not enough resources, urging some of the money invested in war to be shifted to education.

“Thirty-nine billion dollars is spent on [the world’s militaries] in only eight days,” she noted.

If developing countries devoted 6 per cent of their gross domestic product to education, it would take eight days of military spending a year to successfully put all children in school by 2030.

This funding is not only necessary to bring children into school, it is also desperately needed to enhance the quality of their education, as summit participants discussed Brigi Rafini, Prime Minister of the Republic of Niger, claimed that an education without quality is worse than no education at all.

The three important linkages which enhance the quality of education, as agreed by both President of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency Akihiko Tamaka, and the Secretary General of Education International Fred Van Leeuwen, are quality of teaching, quality of the curriculum, lessons and assessments, and quality of community and environment.

Improving teacher training was brought up multiple times throughout the summit. Tamaka stated that teachers are the core of education and they need to be encouraged to continue learning. Overall, valuing the profession of teaching was given great importance at the summit, keeping in mind that many violent attacks at schools are aimed at teachers.

Regarding curriculum, the lack of textbooks in languages which children understand was stressed as an important issue. According to the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), students from minority communities are often pushed out of education because the language of instruction is not their own.

The importance of funding for education, various options and complex realities articulated by this summit will lead the decisions made at the upcoming International Financing for Development Conference, which begins July 13 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hopefully increasing the percentage of humanitarian aid which is spent on education to much more than the current 1.7 per cent.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Day One of Oslo Summit Urges Increased Funding for Global Education Mon, 06 Jul 2015 23:22:46 +0000 Aruna Dutt Primary school children in class, Harar, Ethiopia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Primary school children in class, Harar, Ethiopia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt

At the first day of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a personal story of his experience during the Korean War, when his family “had to run for the mountains”. He spoke of how he was able to receive textbooks because of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“They taught us more than math and reading,” he said, “They taught us the meaning of global solidarity.”

Coming to the end of the 15-year effort to achieve the United Nations’ eight aspirational poverty-reduction goals named the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there has been some progress in achieving the second goal of universal primary education since 2000, with more girls attending school and the net enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa increasing to 80 percent.

However, this progress is slow and not sufficient enough. Increasing financial aid for education in poor countries is critical to meeting this MDG, as new evidence published by UNESCO today shows there is a rising number of out-of-school children (124 million), an issue serious enough to bring hundreds of world leaders to Oslo July 6 and 7.

The leaders are hoping to mobilise more resources for reaching the MDGs and the new sustainable development goals for inclusive and quality education in countries affected by conflict, crisis and poverty.

Today’s sessions in Oslo brought together representatives of governments, organisations, businesses, academia, media, children and teachers to discuss best options, and bring a sense of urgency to the summit.

The main belief of those attending is that education is a human right and a public good, said Ms. Rasheda K. Choudhury, Vice President of the Global Campaign for Education.

Education is not a commodity, Choudhury continues, but a responsibility, and this summit is not taking place as a reminder, rather to help “rethink the strategies” being used.

The discussions highlighted the disparity in education between genders as well as minorities and marginalised groups. Education needs to be considered a life-saving investment in order for more humanitarian efforts and investments, said Hanna Persson, policy officer for gender, education and children at the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), an organisation which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

According to the final MDG report, children with mothers who have a secondary education are three times more likely to survive than those without.

Urgency was placed on financing education, and the private sector was discussed as the key resource for partnerships and innovation to reach the education goals.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, urged countries to increase aid.

“While overseas development assistance increased by nine per cent between 2010 and 2013, aid to basic education fell by 22 per cent from 4.5billion dollars to 3.5billion dollars,” he noted in a statement.

Spending on education is 24 dollars per child in the Democratic Republic of Congo and averages 80 dollars per child across the poorest countries, while in developed countries such as Norway, U.K., and the U.S., more than 8,000 dollars per child is spent annually.

The rise in conflicts and natural disasters that have prevented children from attending school was also a main discussion topic at the summit Monday. There have not been this many displaced children since the 1940s, said the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, yet in 2014 less than 1.7 per cent of humanitarian spending was on education.

The United Nations Secretary-General concluded the summit, “When we put every child in school, provide them with quality learning, and foster global citizenship, we will transform our future.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The University for Peace, Chronicle of a Death Foretold Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:52:33 +0000 Oliver Rizzi Carlson

Oliver Rizzi Carlson holds an MA in Peace Education from the UN-mandated University for Peace and is Editor of the Global Campaign for Peace Education Newsletter. He facilitates learning spaces with youth on the culture of peace and infrastructures for peace, and is Representative at the U.N. for the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

By Oliver Rizzi Carlson
EL RODEO DE MORA, Costa Rica, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

You’ve probably never heard of it. When, in 2007, I tentatively searched the web for “peace education” and Google told me that a U.N.-mandated University in Costa Rica was offering a master’s degree in precisely that, I was dumbfounded. As soon as I set foot on campus, I fell in love with UPEACE.

Now that you know about it, 35 years from its creation, the University for Peace as we know it may disappear. The U.N., which picks unfit foster parents for the University’s Council, over the years has, through neglect and negligence, denied it its life-giving source: dialogue.Like an engineering school building crumbling under the weight of its own tectonic deficiencies, the University for Peace is dying of its own, festering conflicts.

Things have degenerated to the point that one Council member this year ended up stepping on students staging a peaceful sit-in – in order to avoid dialogue.

With the latest slash of principles, the University for Peace may well die a death by a thousand cuts.

The University was founded via the U.N. General Assembly in 1980, and 40-some States are signatories to the International Agreement establishing UPEACE. Its Mission is “to provide humanity with an institution of higher learning for peace … [to] promot[e] among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence … contribut[ing] to the great universal task of educating for peace … [for] the full development of the human person … through the interdisciplinary study of all matters relating to peace.”

The Charter further highlights its “autonomy and academic freedom” and “its profoundly humanistic purpose.”

These guiding precepts are visionary and exciting, and UPEACE is a uniquely important institution for the progress of peace. But the University’s governance structure is grossly inadequate to fulfill its grand Mission.

Like an engineering school building crumbling under the weight of its own tectonic deficiencies, the University for Peace is dying of its own, festering conflicts.

UPEACE has always had many problems, but they have continued only because of UPEACE’s inability to leverage its rich talent pool through dialogue.

This year, instead of finally addressing these long-standing issues meaningfully, Council members used them as a pretext to impose a radical curriculum change, delivered by fiat, and without justification, deepening the lack of dialogue that is eating away at the fabric of the University. What’s more, this deeply misguided curriculum would do away with UPEACE’s competitive advantage and set the University a couple of generations back in peace scholarship.

The issues that precipitated this situation are old. The lack of institutional accreditation, very short MA programmes, haphazard academic quality, aging campus facilities, high tuition fees, financial difficulties and the absence of an endowment fund have made UPEACE hardly competitive and unable to fulfill its Mission.

However, the reason these problems have not been tackled is mismanagement, bolstered by an absolute lack of transparency or accountability, inexistent job security, and the absence of continuity, institutional memory, alumni relations or a unifying alumni network.

This structural paralysis, in turn, is due to a tyrannical concentration of power in the hands of a few, the Rector and Council members, who generally have no personal experience with, ties to or interest in the University or the field of peace studies.

Ultimately, since UPEACE is unknown globally or even in Costa Rica, its obscurity has allowed its many problems to intensify.

At this point, we need a robust, public conversation.

Over the years, there has been no lack of people within the UPEACE Community who have tried to contribute their rich expertise and promote dialogue to address all of those issues, especially this year. However, the job insecurity and lack of continuity have not allowed people to speak up or have an impact, and UPEACE’s problems have only worsened.

The real, predominant issue is structural – the lack of a standing infrastructure for dialogue.

Through such an infrastructure, the amazing potential of the University could become apparent to its biggest critics.

This would require the Council to empower those who have the knowledge, experience, expertise and interest in UPEACE necessary to make it flourish, allowing UPEACE to become the inspirational example it can be. Instead, egos battle for power and UPEACE’s budding potential withers away because of a lack of proper attention to dialogue.

The tension between those attracted to UPEACE by its Mission and those involved with it because of its U.N. origin becomes apparent.

Some of us even wrote our MA theses on the need for an infrastructure for dialogue at UPEACE, and proposed Charter amendments as early as 2009, but those efforts, too, fell on deaf ears.

What has happened in the past academic year is perhaps the last straw in a continual process of neglect of the principle of dialogue that should instead be at the core of UPEACE as an organisation.

Consistent with each graduating class, last year’s students expressed their frustrations with UPEACE through a 63-page report and delivering scathingly honest speeches at graduation.

Special Representative of the UNSG Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Council member Graciana del Castillo and Max Bond of the United Nations University (UNU) unilaterally decided the UPEACE academic programme was to blame.

Admittedly without any background in academia or personal knowledge or experience of UPEACE, Cheng-Hopkins and del Castillo secretly put together a single MA programme to replace all existing MA programmes. They tried to impose this on faculty, shunning any dialogue and threatening to close down the University by depriving it of its U.N. affiliation.

The putative new and unsubstantiated curriculum was leaked to the alumni in July 2014. Numerous letters, online petitions and meetings followed, calling for an open dialogue and decision-making process on an equal footing with other members of the UPEACE Community.

In November 2014, Cheng-Hopkins, a former Assistant U.N. Secretary-General, came to campus unannounced and avoided answering any of the important questions posed by students who went to meet her. She remained so far removed from reality that when students decided to organise a peaceful sit-in to ask for dialogue, she literally stepped on them instead, even kicking one in the head as she forced her way through.

A video documents her two-day visit, and much more has happened since, all of which has been gathered on this website.

Calls for dialogue intensified. Even as the video was sent to all Council members, they continued to ignore our letters. Those mentioned above also failed to respond to a request for comment on the present article.

In January 2015, some Council members finally came to campus. They indulged us in our little game of “dialogue” and ignored, yet again, our comprehensive plan for University-wide dialogue on institutional as well as academic reform.

Instead, they eventually decreed an unclear and largely redundant set of committees to steer a process of input-giving that they had devised before the January meeting. Although the radical academic changes looming on the horizon would now be postponed until the 2016-2017 academic year, the “dialogue” would only focus on academic matters. The outcome of what has been a haphazard and disappointing process will be pitted against the initially secret curricular reform, with one of the two chosen at the Council meeting taking place June 18 and 19.

The only Council member who seems to have an understanding of the need for institutional reforms to sustain dialogue is Mercedes Peñas. Unsurprisingly, she is the only alumna on the Council – and she is not on it because of her alumna status, but because she happens to be the First Lady of Costa Rica. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Instead of politically appointed figures, the Council should have many more alumni, who know and care about this unique institution and can understand and devise ways of facilitating dialogue thanks to which all UPEACE Community members can engage in collective decision-making for the good of the institution.

Having too heavily relied on its U.N. origin in the past, UPEACE has now been given an ultimatum by its wardens. It will either have to give its last breath to the U.N., or it may have to lose that august logo and start the slow, gradual path of real work to academic redemption.

I think it’s a false choice; but I believe UPEACE would be much better off disowned and free rather than slave to a bureaucratic logic that is incompatible with the real, hard work of dialogue essential to innovation, peace, and education. After all, that is its Mission. If nothing changes in its structure, the University for Peace as we know it will be gone.

Given the importance of education for peace, this would be a unique loss to the field of peace studies and the development of the new and innovative approaches to peacebuilding we so desperately need.

To know more or get involved, please write to

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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When a Kid With Low Self-Esteem Dreams of Becoming the President Mon, 15 Jun 2015 22:08:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

You may have heard of Global Citizenship Education (GCED), but unless you move in international development circles, chances are you’re not entirely sure what the acronym means.

Speaking at a seminar on this very issue at the United Nations headquarters on Jun. 15, Sofia Garcia-Garcia of SOS Children’s Villages, a care organisation striving to meet the needs of over 80,000 children in 133 countries worldwide, provided an excellent summary.

Recounting a recent project undertaken by the Global Movement for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which Garcia’s organisation is a member, she explained what happened when 1,080 kids and adolescents from 10 Latin American countries were consulted about their own priorities for the U.N.’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education. It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity." -- Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria.
“SOS works with children without parental care, and they are usually children with very, very low self esteem,” Garcia told a packed conference room Monday.

“But within 10 minutes of us explaining the initiative and saying, ‘We want to hear your voice, you are the agent of change’, children who didn’t even consider themselves as speakers were suddenly wanting to be the president of the country.”

The exercise concluded with the publication of ‘The World We Want’, an illustrated, child-friendly version of the 17 proposed SDGs.

“This is the real power of global citizenship education,” Garcia-Garcia asserted.

Backed by several missions including the Republic of Korea and the United States, and co-sponsored by civil society groups like CONCORD – an alliance of over 2,600 NGOs across Europe – as well as the 12-million member Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS), the panel served as a knowledge platform to share some of the key components of GCED.

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education,” stressed Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria. “It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity: all other rights should be contingent on the right to education.”

But our current reality does not reflect his convictions. We are living in a world where 58 million children are out of school and a further 100 million children do not complete primary education, according to the latest Education for All global monitoring report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).

Add to this the fact that there are 168 million child labourers, as well as 200 million jobless adults, and the urgency of the situation becomes clear.

All told, some 781 million people globally cannot read or write, a staggering statistic in a world where not only basic literacy but also, increasingly, computer literacy, forms the fine line between a decent life or one of poverty.

However, GCED goes beyond the simple metrics of more bodies in the classroom. In short, the concept of global citizenship refers to a “sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity,” according to UNESCO.

It aims to transform classroom pedagogy, create bonds of cultural understanding and civic consciousness and forge a global citizenry for the 21st century based on human rights, peace and equity. While advocacy is happening on a global scale, implementation of GCED will be local in nature, undertaken in accordance with countries’ education ministries and tailored to meet the specific needs of states, or communities.

GCED recognises that basic literacy alone is not sufficient to level the playing field in a world plagued with inequalities, where the wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries has risen from 35:1 during the colonial era to 80:1 today, and where the richest 85 people own more riches between them than 50 percent of the global population.

Rather, it is the quality of education that will close wealth gaps and ensure such elusive goals as peace, security and the curbing of violent extremism.

Calling attention to the increasing number of people from the developed world heading for “theatres of war in the Middle East”, Nigerian Ambassador Sarki asked, “Can we really say these people are not educated? Many of them are. Indeed, masterminds of terrorist activity are highly educated people – the question is, what kind of education have they had? We can be educated, and remain narrow-minded,” he stated.

The concept of GCED dates back to 2012 when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Global Education First Initiative, and after much advocacy in which the Republic of Korea has played a major role, the initiative has been incorporated into the Zero Draft outcome document for the post-2015 agenda, to be finalized during negotiations at the end of the month.

Already, scores of international and grassroots initiatives centered on GCED are springing to life, or bearing fruit.

For instance, global citizenship education is one of the key strategic areas in UNESCO’s 2014-2017 education programme, while groups like SOS Children’s Villages have put the concept at the front and centre of their work by undertaking unique forms of education in order to include some of the most vulnerable groups.

Garcia-Garcia, SOS’s post-2015 advisor, told IPS that the organisation works very closely with families at risk of separation or with children who have lost parental care so, “for us, non-formal education is as essential as formal education”.

“There are lots of places to learn,” she told IPS on the sidelines of Monday’s event, “and the classroom is just one of them.”

This kind of thinking will be vital to extending the boons of GCED to the world’s indigenous people who number some 370 million and many of whom are locked in a struggle to preserve ancient forms of knowledge sharing, from local languages to oral histories.

With indigenous communities pushing hard for a place in the post-2015 agenda, global citizenship education could offer the out-of-the-box strategies needed to bring hitherto marginalized peoples into a more inclusive and sustainable framework.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: Better Students, Better Citizens, Better World: Education Is the Key to Peace Sun, 14 Jun 2015 14:33:32 +0000 Valentina Ieri Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Amb. Choong-hee Han. Credit UN Photo/ Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Amb. Choong-hee Han. Credit UN Photo/ Mark Garten

By Valentina Ieri

In a world where high levels of social and religious intolerance, conflicts, violent extremism and environmental degradation are threatening justice and peace, the United Nations is trying to find ways to maintain world order and promote sustainable development.

This year, the drafting of the post-2015 U.N. agenda, which has set up the targets for the next 15 years of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), represents a turning point for achieving development worldwide.We need a new system that revitalises the classrooms and contributes substantially to peace and security.

Finding a solution to 21st century challenges requires the creation of a fresh, universally-based, inclusive and transformative paradigm. The key to this paradigm is Global Citizenship Education (GCED).

Great emphasis has been placed on the role of education since U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the “Global Education First Initiative”, in 2012, which put GCED as one of its main principles.

Following the 2015 resolution adopted by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on the necessity to conceptualise and implement policies concerning global citizenship education, and the adoption of the Incheon Declaration on the Future of Education adopted at the World Education Forum (May 19-22), hosted in Seoul, major steps forward have been made in relation to GCED.

Advocates say the next step is to include GCED within the education targets in the SDGs that will be ratified in September in New York.

A seminar to raise awareness and spread the concept of GCED will be held on Jun. 15, organised by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the U.N., along with the collaboration of the Permanent Missions of the United States, Nigeria, Qatar, France, the UNESCO, international organisations and NGOs.

In an interview with IPS, the Permanent Deputy Representative of Korea, Choong-Hee Hahn, spoke about GCED and its relevance for building a more peaceful world.

Q: What is Global Citizenship Education?

A: Generally, education is defined in functional terms, such as access to schools and quality of education in preparation of a professional career. But the new framework of GCED should focus on orientation.

There are three main aspects that GCED should promote. Firstly, the “sense of being”, teaching students, since their early age, about what kind of citizens they should become. They should be sensitised about future challenges, such as climate change, intolerance and violent extremisms.

Secondly, the “sense of responsibility and privilege of being a global citizen.” GCED should include multicultural diversity and mutual respect, by understanding the real meaning of fundamental and human rights values, dignity and democracy.

Thirdly, “compassion and empathy”. The revolutionary aspect of GCED is its holistic approach to education, rather than advancing to next the level of education or job searching. This is the best approach to cope with our Century complexities.

Another important concept of GCED is inclusiveness.

Hatred and violence come from a sense of isolation, and a lack interconnectedness. Teaching inclusiveness, embracing different social, political and economic aspects. In this way, people will feel respected and will play an active role tin the society.

Q: Why is Korea leading GCED?

A: It is because of the rapid development Korea went through in the past decades. Thinking about the history of Korea, we experienced immense poverty. However, by investing in education, and through the promotion of democratic values we reached development.

Today, Korea is very multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious, based on the respect of human rights. Christians, Muslims Confucians and Buddhists live cohesively together. We are a positive example of education, tolerance and peace. As a role model, we would like to contribute and raise awareness on GCED without bias nor prefixed prejudices.

Q: Why bringing GCED within the U.N. agenda post-2015 development agenda?

A: This is the right time to think about how and why the U.N. is pursuing the new SDGs. The U.N. first priorities are now dignity of people and the planet, along with justice and prosperity. These are value oriented goals and objectives. The U.N. agenda is based on three main pillars: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights. I think all those issues are intertwined with education, and GCED is the solution to peace and security – by promoting tolerance and responsibility – sustainable development –  through inclusiveness and equity – human rights – understanding the privilege of being a human being and democratic values.

Q:What is GCED methodology?

A: Global education should be based on the participation of multiple stakeholders. Not only teachers and students, but also worldwide social, economic, cultural experts, NGOs and youth groups.

GCED should be built on a methodological paradigm, not based on textbooks, but on discussions and participation of all students in the class. New audio-visual methods, and participatory discourses, through fieldwork and exchange programmes. We need a new system that revitalises the classrooms and contributes substantially to peace and security.

GCED is not about replicating the paradigm of “Enlightenment and Western” values. On the contrary, by focusing on inclusiveness, it aspires to find a world denominator common to developed and developing countries.

However, given that many children still have no access to education, GCED should mobilise funding and concrete means of implementations. GCED should also be participatory and content-sharing.

To do so, it is important to develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) through the use of internet, computers, and mobile phones, even in the remotest areas of the planet, along with the support of the private sector. For instance, in Korea, we are leading several educational projects with private companies such as Samsung .

Q: What are the main challenges to GCED?

A: Unfortunately there are still huge financial gaps and inequalities among countries.

Recently, a proposal for a global fund for education was put forward, but it is not easy, as there are already many other funds, such as funds to finance development or the Green Climate Fund.

There is the Global Partnership for Education, the existing global fund which helps developing countries to get access to education for all.

However, we need more financial resources, improved capacity building, and more ICT equipment to deploy in developing countries.

An additional challenge is the fact that education is not yet perceived as a top priority in many government agendas. This is the real problem. As long as there are not enough investments by local authorities in national education, Global Education will be impossible to achieve. Therefore, it is fundamental the collaboration of the private sector in developing an ethical Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Urged to Put Global Citizenship at Centre of Post-2015 Development Agenda Fri, 12 Jun 2015 15:09:10 +0000 Thalif Deen A peace sign formed by people in Croatia. Credit: Teophil/cc by 3.0

A peace sign formed by people in Croatia. Credit: Teophil/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen

When Denmark hosted the World Summit on Social Development (WSSD) in March 1995, one of the conclusions of that international gathering in Copenhagen was to create a new social contract with “people at the centre of development.”

But notwithstanding the shortcomings in its implementation over the last 20 years, the United Nations is now pursuing an identical goal with a new political twist: “global citizenship.”“Our world needs more solar power and wind power. But I believe in an even stronger source of energy: People power.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Reaffirming the opening line of the U.N. Charter, which says “We the Peoples”, the United Nations is adding the finishing touches to its post-2015 development agenda – even as there are increasing demands from civil society organisations (CSOs) to focus on issues relating to people, including poverty, hunger, unemployment, urbanisation, education, nuclear disarmament, gender empowerment, population, human rights and the global environment.

Addressing a star-studded Global Citizen Festival in New York City’s Central Park last September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared: “Our world needs more solar power and wind power. But I believe in an even stronger source of energy: People power.”

Speaking at the 20th anniversary of WSSD, Ambassador Oh Joon of the Republic of Korea and Vice President of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said while one of the three major objectives of the Copenhagen Social Summit – poverty eradication – was incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000, the other two – productive employment and social integration – were not.

“An integrated approach advocated at the Social Summit to simultaneously pursue the three key objectives was left behind,” he told an ECOSOC meeting last week.

“There was a need to re-examine where the new United Nations development agendas would come from,” the Korean envoy said.

Economic growth in itself, while necessary, was not sufficient to reduce poverty and inequality, he said, stressing the need for strong social policies, as well as inclusive and sustainable development.

Similarly, there were many links among social, economic and environmental fields that must be effectively addressed, he added.

Meanwhile, the concept of global citizenship has taken on added importance, particularly on the eve of the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda which is expected to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September.

Asked how relevant the concept was in the post-2015 context, Roberto Bissio, executive director of the Third World Institute, a non-profit research and advocacy organisation based in Uruguay, told IPS: “If by citizenship we mean rights, and in particular the right to bring governments to account, and decide how taxes are used, we are very far from global citizenship.”

In fact, he said, there is little talk of citizenship in the current discussions around the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa in July and the September summit of world leaders on a new development agenda.

Instead, he said, there is a lot of attention being given to “multistakeholderism”.

The notion of “stakeholder”, as opposed to “shareholder,” was originally a way to make corporations more accountable to the people affected by their actions.

Now “multistakeholder governance” in the Internet or in “partnerships” with the United Nations means that corporations will have a role in global governance, without necessarily becoming more accountable in the process, he pointed out.

“This means less rights for citizens, not more,” said Bissio, who also coordinates the secretariat of Social Watch, an international network of citizen organisations worldwide.

On the other hand, he said, if the FfD conference approves a U.N. mechanism for tax collaboration between countries to counter widespread tax evasion by multinational corporations, citizenship (including the elusive ‘global citizenship’ concept) may emerge strengthened.

Pointing out the successes of people-oriented policies, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, former president of Chile, said when he was the leading his country in 1995 he had supported several initiatives to promote democracy and social justice.

Over the last 25 years, he said, Chile had succeeded in drastically reducing poverty to 7.8 per cent from 38.6 per cent, with extreme poverty reduced to 2.5 per cent from 13 per cent.

The WSSD, he said, was the largest meeting of heads of state that resulted in shaping a new model of development that would create progressive social equity that addressed imbalances around the world.

“The human being was placed at the centre of development, as reflected in the World Summit action plan,” he said.

Highlighting achievements resulting from implementing the plan, he said Chile had increased investments in social development and was, under current President Michelle Bachelet, continuing to do so in order to address inequality.

While Latin America had reduced poverty, it remained “more unequal” than other regions and currently, 28 per cent of its population of 167 million lived in poverty, with 71 million living in extreme poverty, he said.

But some of the pressing tasks, he said, included thinking about a new fiscal pact and tax reform that would improve income distribution in order to avoid “false” development. Corruption and institutional reform also needed to be addressed.

“As such, the World Social Summit remained as valid today as in 1995,” he said.

Going forward, combatting poverty and inequalities required an ethical foundation and a sustained effort. At this crossroad, it was time that governments gave more impetus to that “moral movement”, the former Chilean president said.

Juan Somavia, a former director-general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and ex-Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations, told the ECOSOC meeting the yet-to-be-finalised “zero” draft of the new post-2015 agenda recovered the spirit and dynamism of the 1990s and was a good basis for negotiations.

“The document reflected a supremely ambitious vision, with its 17 goals and 69 indicators focused on a people-centred poverty-eradication sustainable development concept,” he noted.

With regard to challenges, he said, policy support from the United Nations would be critical.

Since the world had discussed the three elements of sustainable development but had not yet implemented them, the basic challenge ahead was to ensure integrated thinking and to shape methods for using it to clearly explain the types of interactions between the agenda’s three pillars that were needed to fulfil commitments, he declared.

That difficult task required an initiative from the U.N. secretariats in New York and Geneva, its Funds and Programmes and the multiple networks in regions in which the organisation operated, he said.

Unless that process began immediately after the new agenda was adopted, the “goods” would not be delivered, Somavia warned.

That initiative would also require the recognition of the balance between markets, the State, society and individuals. “In recent years, people’s confidence in the United Nations had dropped.”

The manner in which the United Nations presented the new agenda was essential in addressing that issue.

As the Social Summit’s Programme of Action had recognized the importance of public trust, he emphasized that the new development agenda must acknowledge and address that current lack of confidence, Somavia declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Jazz as a Force for Peace and Freedom Sat, 02 May 2015 13:16:57 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the brains behind International Jazz Day, an event that aims to encourage and highlight the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the brains behind International Jazz Day, an event that aims to encourage and highlight the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 2 2015 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland, the fourth annual International Jazz Day was celebrated with events around the world and appeals for peace, unity and dialogue.

“Each of us is equal. All of us inhabit this place we call home,” said American jazz legend Herbie Hancock. “We must move mountains to find solutions to our incredible challenges.”“Each of us is equal. All of us inhabit this place we call home. We must move mountains to find solutions to our incredible challenges" – American jazz legend Herbie Hancock

Although the organisers of the event held on Apr. 30 did not refer directly to the protests that have followed the funeral of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, an African-American who died in police custody, Hancock told IPS in an exclusive interview that musicians were conscious of this and other cases.

“Every time those kinds of things happen, not just with African-Americans or people of African heritage – but with different groups, whether it’s women being slaughtered, children being abused, ethnic groups being oppressed – we have to work to change things. This gives the music value and meaning,” he said.

Cover of the programme for International Jazz day 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

Cover of the programme for International Jazz day 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

International Jazz Day is Hancock’s brainchild, and it is presented each year by the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO in partnership with the U.S.-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. The organisers say the day is aimed at encouraging and highlighting the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”.

It is also meant to promote “intercultural dialogue through respect and understanding, uniting people from all corners of the globe,” says UNESCO.

In a sign of how significant the event has become since its launch in 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will host the 2016 International Jazz Day and its signature event, the ‘All-Star Global Concert’, at the White House in Washington, D.C., Hancock announced.

“I spoke to Obama almost a year ago, at an event, and he said ‘let’s make it happen’. That wasn’t a promise because it was just in the moment, but he did make it happen, and the concert will be at the White House next year,” he told IPS.

After its beginnings in Paris three years ago, other cities which have played host to the global concert include Istanbul, Turkey, in 2013 and Osaka, Japan, last year.

The 2015 Global Host City was Paris once more, and jazz lovers were able to enjoy a day-long series of performances and educational programmes in different districts of the French capital. The presentations included workshops, master classes, discussions and jam sessions, in venues ranging from community centres to soup kitchens.

Coinciding with UNESCO’s on-going 70th anniversary celebration, the ‘All-Star Global Concert’ took place in a packed auditorium at the agency’s headquarters, with top United Nations and French officials among the audience, including U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira who has long fought discrimination.

“Jazz has taught me much,” said Ban. “When things become difficult, I’ve learned that you just have to improvise.”

He and the multi-cultural audience then settled back to enjoy the show, with its line-up of 30 renowned artists. The concert kicked off with vocalist Al Jarreau warming up the crowd and moved to a stirring tribute by South African musician Hugh Masekela to his country’s late icon Nelson Mandela.

As Ban had remarked, the concert was like a “mini-UN”, as American pianists such as Hancock and John Beasley (the show’s musical director) joined with Brazilian vocalist Eliane Elias,

Scottish-born Annie Lennox, more known for her rock singing, was one of the star performers at International Jazz Day 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

Scottish-born Annie Lennox, more known for her rock singing, was one of the star performers at International Jazz Day’s ‘All-Star Global Concert’ 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

Scottish singer Annie Lennox, Tunisian oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef, French percussionist Mino Cinélu, Chinese teenage pianist A Bu, and a host of others to celebrate jazz and its influence.

Hancock said musicians and others were working for tolerance, mutual respect and global peace. “I’ve seen musicians from opposing sides unite to play the most beautiful music and tell the sweetest stories,” he said in his speech to the audience.

The ‘Who’s Who’ of jazz also included singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who thanked France for opening doors and welcoming jazz musicians; saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who played alongside the young Washington, D.C.-born bassist Ben Williams and oud player Youssef for a world-premiere piece; and vocalists Dianne Reeves and Lennox (more known for rock), who drew cheers for their powerful renditions.

At the launch, UNESCO’s Director-General Irena Bokova said: “Jazz means dialogue, reaching out to others, bringing everyone on board. It means respecting the human rights and dignity of every woman and man, no matter their background. It means understanding others, letting them speak, listening in the spirit of respect.

“All this is why we join together to celebrate jazz; this music of freedom is a force for peace, and its messages have never been more vital than they are today, in times of turbulence,” she added.

Other countries that staged events to celebrate the day included South Africa, where organisers presented a series of workshops, seminars and performances with the theme of achieving change, and the United States, where award-winning artists gave concerts in New Orleans and other cities.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*   This article is published in association with Southern World Arts News (SWAN).

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Peace Is Not a Boy’s Club Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Valentina Ieri When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

By Valentina Ieri

Governments have long pledged to bring more women to the peace table, but for many (if not most), it has been little more than lip service.

In a bid to accelerate this process, the Global Network of Women Peace-builders (GNWP) in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Chile and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations organised an international workshop on Apr. 23 to better integrate the Women, Peace, Security (WPS) U.N. Security Council Resolutions within the security sector.

The seminar focused on recommendations for the implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 at the international, regional and national level, in order to bring more women to the peace tables in conflict areas, and bring their perspectives into post-conflict reconstruction processes.

According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on WPS, a reform of the security sector is needed in order to accomplish these goals.

Speaking from U.N. Headquarters in New York, the International Coordinator of GNWP, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, stressed “the need for a systematic implementation of Resolution 1325 at the international level.”

In the past three years, GNWP has conducted over 50 localisation workshops in 10 countries, in various communities and municipalities, inviting police officers and the military forces to learn about Resolution 1325.

“It is no surprise to us when they come to our localisation workshops that these officers hear about Resolution 1325 for the very first time. However, working only at the local level is hard, because final approvals come from the higher ups, in order to actually get a full reform and training of officers of the security sector,” highlighted Cabrera-Balleza.

The GNWP is not only calling for a global reform of the security sectors and armed forces for the inclusion of women in peace-building, but also for demilitarisation of countries and the elimination of conflicts to achieve peace worldwide.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and member of the High-Level Advisory Group for Global Study on Resolution 1325, who was present at the seminar, underlined the inadequacy of governments and peacekeepers in protecting civilians, and especially women, in recent years.

“(We need) the integration of the culture of peace and non-violence in national and global policies, and education for global citizenship. We need a human security policy, and a more inclusive human way of thinking about our future, where women and men can share equally the construction of a safer and just world,” he said.

One positive example of the inclusion of women during peace negotiations comes from the Philippines.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Philippine Government Peace Panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), explained that after 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine authorities and the MILF, in the last two decades, the government and armed forces have moved toward the “civilianisation” of peace processes.

“More and more women were allowed in, either as members of the bureaucracy or government, or civil society leaders, or academia members, and they have all been sitting at the peace table.”

As Coronel-Ferrel said, women brought a more gender-based response into the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

“Not only because there were more women inside the negotiating tracks, but also women around the panels, who would be lobbying the government but also the counter party, making sure that diverse frameworks would be included in the text.”

In addition, the reform of the security sector in the Philippines created local monitoring teams, where either police officers or lower ranking members of the armed forces worked closely with MILF members, leading to trust building and cooperation for better security on the ground, concluded Coronel-Farrel.

Participating in the event were also officers from police and military forces from Argentina, Australia, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Nepal, countries which are implementing reforms within their security sectors at the local, regional and national level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From Slavery to Self Reliance: A Story of Dalit Women in South India Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:19:07 +0000 Stella Paul BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BELLARY, India, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

HuligeAmma, a Dalit woman in her mid-forties, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily.

The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.

But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves.

Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.

Still, they will never forget the wretchedness that once defined their daily lives, nor the entrenched religious and economic systems in India that paved the way for their destitution and bondage.

From the temple to the open-pit mine

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer)." -- Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in the Indian state of Karnatake
“I was 12 years old when my parents offered me to the Goddess Yellamma [worshipped in the Hindu pantheon as the ‘goddess of the fallen’], and told me I was now a ‘devadasi’,” HuligeAmma tells IPS.

“I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I would not marry a man because I now belonged to the Goddess.”

While her initial impressions were not far from the truth, HuligeAmma could not have known then, as an innocent adolescent, what horrors her years of servitude would hold.

The devadasi tradition – the practice of dedicating predominantly lower-caste girls to serve a particular deity or temple – has a centuries-long history in South India.

While these women once occupied a high status in society, the fall of Indian kingdoms to British rule rendered temples penniless and left many devadasis without the structures that had once supported them.

Pushed into poverty but unable to find other work, bound as they were to the gods, devadasis in many states across India’s southern belt essentially became prostitutes, resulting in the government issuing a ban on the entire system of temple slavery in 1988.

Still, the practice continues and as women like HuligeAmma will testify, it remains as degrading and brutal as it was in the 1980s.

She tells IPS that as she grew older a stream of men would visit her in the night, demanding sexual favours. Powerless to refuse, she gave birth to five children by five different men – none of whom assumed any responsibility for her or the child.

After the last child was born, driven nearly mad with hunger and despair, HuligeAmma broke away from the temple and fled to Hospet, a town close to the World Heritage site of Hampi in northern Karnataka.

It did not take her long to find work in an open-cast mine, one of dozens of similar, illicit units that operated throughout the district from 2004 to 2011.

For six years, from dawn until dusk, HuligeAmma extracted iron ore by using a hammer to create holes in the open pit through which the iron could be ‘blasted’ out.

She was unaware at the time that this back-breaking labour constituted the nucleus of a massive illegal mining operation in Karnataka state, that saw the extraction and export of 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2011.

All she knew was that she and Roopa, who worked alongside her as a child labourer, earned no more than 50 rupees apiece (about 0.7 dollars) each day.

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

In a bid to crack down on the criminal trade, police often raided the mines and arrested the workers, who had to pay bribes of 200-300 rupees (roughly four to six dollars) to secure their release.

In a strange echo of the devadasi system, this cycle kept them indebted to the mine operators.

In 2009, when she could no longer tolerate the crushing workload or the constant sexual advances from fellow workers, contractors and truckers, who saw the former temple slave as ‘fair game’, HuligeAmma threw herself on the mercy of a local non-governmental organisation, Sakhi Trust, which has proved instrumental in lifting both her and her daughter out of the abyss.

Today all her children are back in school and Roopa works as a youth coordinator with Sakhi Trust. They live in Nagenhalli, a Dalit village where HuligeAmma works as a seamstress, teaching dressmaking skills to young girls in the community.

Caste: India’s most unsustainable system

The story may have ended happily for HuligeAmma and Roopa, but for many of India’s roughly 200 million Dalits, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Once considered ‘untouchables’ in the Indian caste system, Dalits – literally, ‘the broken’ – are a diverse and divided group, encompassing everyone from so-called ‘casteless’ communities to other marginalised peoples.

Under this vast umbrella exists a further hierarchy, with some communities, like the Madiga Dalits (sometimes called ‘scavengers’), often discriminated against by their kin.

Historically, Madigas have made shoes, cleaned drains and skinned animals – tasks considered beneath the dignity of all other groups in Hindu society.

Most of the devadasis in South India hail from this community, according to Bhagya Lakshmi, social activist and director of the Sakhi Trust. In Karnataka alone, there are an estimated 23,000 temple slaves, of which over 90 percent are Dalit women.

Lakshmi, who has worked alongside the Madiga people for nearly two decades, tells IPS that Madiga women grow up knowing little else besides oppression and discrimination.

The devadasi system, she adds, is nothing more than institutionalised, caste-based violence, which sets Dalit women on a course that almost guarantees further exploitation, including unpaid labour or unequal wages.

For instance, even in an illegal mine, a non-Dalit worker gets between 350 and 400 rupees (between five and six dollars) a day, while a Dalit is paid no more than 100 rupees, reveals MinjAmma, a Madiga woman who worked in a mine for seven years.

Yet it is Dalit women who made up the bulk of the labourers entrapped in the massive iron trade.

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer),” Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Herself the daughter and granddaughter of devadasis, who spent her childhood years working in a mine, Manjula believes the systems of forced labour and temple slavery are connected in a matrix of exploitation across India’s southern states, a linkage that is deepened further by the caste system.

She, like most official sources, is unclear on the exact number of Dalits forced into the iron ore extraction racket, but is confident that it ran into “several thousands”.

Destroying lives, and livelihoods

Annually, India accounts for seven percent of global iron ore production, and ranks fourth in terms of the quantity produced after Brazil, China and Australia. Every year, India produces about 281 million tonnes of iron ore, according to a 2011 Supreme Court report.

Karnataka is home to over 9,000 million tonnes of India’s total estimated reserves of 25.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, making it a crucial player in the country’s export industry.

Bellary District alone houses an estimated 1,000 million tonnes of iron ore reserves. Between April 2006 and July 2010, 228 unlicensed miners exported 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore, causing the state losses worth 16 million dollars.

With a population of 2.5 million people relying primarily on agriculture, fisheries and livestock farming for their livelihoods, Bellary District has suffered significant environmental impacts from illicit mining operations.

Groundwater supplies have been poisoned, with sources in and around mining areas showing high iron and manganese content, as well as an excessive concentration of fluoride – all of which are the enemies of farming families who live off the land.

Research suggests that 9.93 percent of the region’s 68,234 hectares of forests have been lost in the mining boom, while the dust generated through the processes of excavating, blasting and grading iron has coated vegetation in surrounding areas in a thick film of particulate matter, stifling photosynthesis.

Although the Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all unregistered mining activity in 2011, following an extensive report on the environmental, economic and social impacts, rich industrialists continue to flout the law.

Still, an official ban has made it easier to crack down on the practice. Today, from the ashes of two crumbling systems – unlawful mining operations and religiously sanctioned sexual abuse – some of India’s poorest women are pointing the way towards a sustainable future.

From servitude to self-reliance

Their first order of business is to educate themselves and their children, secure alternative livelihoods and deal with the basic issue of sanitation – currently, there is just one toilet for every 90 people in the Bellary District.

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The literacy rate among Dalit communities in South India has been found to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, but Madiga women are making a massive push to turn the tide. With the help of the Sakhi Trust, 600 Dalit girls who might have missed out on schooling altogether have been enrolled since 2011.

Today, Lakshmi Devi Harijana, hailing from the village of Danapura, has become the first Madiga woman in the region to teach in a college, while a further 25 women from her village have earned their university degrees.

To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.

While some have chosen to travel the road of intellectual advancement, others are turning back to simple skills like sewing and animal husbandry.

BhagyaAmma, once an exploited temple slave who also worked in an illegal mine for several years, is today rearing two goats that she bought for the sum of 100 dollars.

She tells IPS she will sell them at the market during the holy festival of Eid al-Adha – a sacrificial feast for which a lamb is slaughtered and shared among family, neighbours and the poor – for 190 dollars.

It is a small profit, but she says it is enough for her basic needs.

Although the government promised the women of Bellary District close to 30 billion rupees (about 475 million dollars) for a rehabilitation programme to undo the damages of illegal mining, the official coffers remain empty.

“We have received applications from local women seeking funds to build individual toilets, but we have not received any money or any instructions regarding the mining rehabilitation fund,” Mohammed Muneer, commissioner of the Hospet Municipality in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Not content to wait around, the women are mobilising their own community-based, which allocates 15,000 rupees (about 230 dollars) on a rolling basis for families to build small toilets, so that women and children will not be at the mercy of sexual predators.

Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.

As Manjula says, “We want to build small models of economic sustainability. We don’t want to depend on anyone – not a single person, not even the government.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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In Bangladesh, Gender Equality Comes on the Airwaves Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:14:03 +0000 Naimul Haq Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

Judging by how often they make headlines, one might be tempted to believe that women in Bangladesh don’t play a major role in this country’s affairs.

A recent media monitoring survey by the non-governmental organisation Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) revealed that out of 3,361 news items studied over a two-month period, “Only 16 percent of newspaper stories, 14 percent of television news [items], and 20 percent of radio news [items] considered women as subjects or interviewed them.”

“Most of our audience are poor and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular." -- Sharmin Sultana, a news anchor for Radio Pollikontho in northeastern Bangladesh
Fewer than eight percent of all the stories had women as the central focus. Of the few women who actually made an appearance on the TV screen, 97 percent were reading out the news, while just three percent fell into the category of ‘reporters’.

Only 0.03 percent of all bylined stories studied during that period carried a woman’s name.

The monitoring report found that even though more women appeared in photographs than men, they were quoted far fewer times, proving the old proverb that, in this country of 157 million people, women are still “seen and not heard.”

While these statistics might seem daunting, women across the country who are not content to sit by and wait for the situation to change have taken matters into their own hands. They are doing so by getting on the airwaves and using the radio as a tool to raise the voices of women and bring rural issues into the limelight.

Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Like the vast majority of people here they are concentrated in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population – live.

Their distance from policy-making urban centres casts a double cloak of invisibility over women: according to data gleaned from the BNPS study, a mere 12 percent of newspaper articles, seven percent of TV news items and just five percent of radio stories focused on rural or remote areas – even though urban areas cover just eight percent of this vast country’s landmass, and host just 28 percent of the population.

The absence of women and women’s issues in the media is a dangerous trend in a country that ranked 142nd out of 187 states in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s most recent Gender Inequality Index (GII), making Bangladesh one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yet, even this is not mentioned in the news: the BNPS study showed that less than one percent of over 3,000 news items surveyed made any mention of gender inequality, while only 11 news stories challenged prevailing gender stereotypes.

Given that Bangladesh has an extremely low literacy rate of 59 percent compared to the global average of 84.3 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the importance of radio cannot be underestimated.

Even in a nation where 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, radio is a widespread, relatively affordable means of plugging into the world, and is extremely popular among the millions of rural families that comprise the bulk of this country.

Lifting the voices of rural women

Momena Ferdousi, a 24-year-old student hailing from Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapai Nawabganj District, is one of the country’s up-and-coming radio professionals.

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

She is the senior programme producer for Radio Mahananda, a community radio station launched in 2011 that caters primarily to the thousands of farming families in this agricultural region that comprises part of the 7,780-square-km Barind Tract.

She tells IPS she would not be where she is today without the support and training she, and scores of other aspiring female radio workers, received from the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC).

Fellowships and capacity-building initiatives sponsored by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 14 regional community radio stations around the country.

“The road to my employment was challenging,” Ferdousi explains, “but BNNRC saw the potential in me and [other] female journalists and I believe we have made substantial changes by addressing gaps in women’s right to information.”

Miles away, the confident voice of Sharmin Sultana on Radio Pollikontho, broadcast in the northeastern district of Moulvibazar, reaches roughly 400,000 people spread over a 17-km radius.

With five hours of daily programming that focus largely on issues relevant to rural women, Radio Pollikontho has filled a huge gap in this community.

“It is an amazing feeling to conduct a programme, interact live with guests and respond to our audience’s requests to discuss health, women’s rights, social injustice, education and agriculture,” Sultana tells IPS. “When we began we had only one programme on women’s issues, now we run five programmes weekly, exclusively dedicated to women.”

“Most of our audience are poor,” she explains, “and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular and the demand for interactive live programmes is increasing by the day.”

The difficulties facing women here in Bangladesh are legion.

Only 16.8 million women are employed in the formal sector, with the vast majority of them performing unpaid domestic labour on top of their duties in the farm or field.

A lack of financial independence makes them extremely vulnerable to domestic violence: a recent study by the deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that 87 percent of currently married women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands, while 98 percent say they have been sexually ‘violated’ by their spouses at some point during marriage.

The survey also revealed that one-third of all married women faced ‘economic abuse’ – the forcible withholding of a partner’s financial assets for the purpose of maintaining financial dependence on the perpetrator of violence.

In 2011, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence.

Other issues, like child marriage, also make pressing news bulletins for community radio stations directed at women: according to United Nations data, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthday.

The situation is bleak, but experts say that as women become educated and aware of their rights, the tide will inevitable turn for the better.

BNNRC Chief Executive Officer A H M Bazlur Rahman, who pioneered rural radio broadcasting efforts around the country, tells IPS, “Issues like budget allocation, lack of appropriate sanitation, violence against women, fighting corruption, [and] education for girls are [often] neglected by policy makers. But if we can give women a voice, these problems [will] gradually disappear.”

It remains to be seen whether or not more women’s voices on the air will uplift the half of Bangladesh’s population in need of empowerment. But every time a woman’s voice crackles to life on a radio show, it means one more woman out there is hearing her story, learning her rights and moving closer to equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Cli-fi’ to Heat Up Literature Course in India Wed, 08 Apr 2015 19:53:43 +0000 Dan Bloom Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

University lecture halls in North America are no strangers to the ”cli-fi” genre of climate-themed novels and movies, but now India is getting into the act as well, thanks to the pioneering work of Professor T. Ravichandran of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) in Uttar Pradesh.

Dr. Ravichandran’s course, titled “Cli-fi and Cli-flicks,” is set to begin in late July and consists of 15 modules covering such topics as eco-fiction, eco-fabulism, and representations of climate change issues in feature films and documentaries."How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?" -- Professor T. Ravichandran

Aimed at undergraduate students at IITK, the course will be the first of its kind in all of India, Dr. Ravichandran told me in a recent email.

“In India, climate change awareness is not as acutely felt as in the U.S. or the U.K,” he said. ”My recent research on ‘Literature, Technology and Environment: Global and Pedagogical Perspectives,’ sponsored by the Fulbright-Nehru Professional and Academic fellowship from USIEF, India, and hosted at Duke University in North Carolina, was a turning point in my career.”

Dr. Ravichandran said he experienced a paradigm shift in his thinking about the way in which he connects to the natural environment during his fellowship in North Carolina.

When I asked him what he meant, he replied: “It made me to think seriously of my role as a teacher of literature to engineering students. How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?”

To answer his own question, Professor Ravichandran added: “In order to make myself relevant to my existence on this Earth, I thought at least I should cause awareness on climate change in the minds of my students. So that’s how I started working on the course. In India, I hope to make this course a successful and effective one.”

Since the predominating global concern today is climate change, which obliterates geopolitical boundaries and connects humans in search of common solutions, Dr. Ravichandran is appropriating an inter-disciplinary approach for his course, he told me.

“Climate fiction (‘cli-fi’) and climate films (‘cli-flicks’) offer an inter-disciplinary study of a looming phenomenon that the humans in the Anthropocene age witness helplessly as if trapped on a sinking ship,” he said.

“The real question to be addressed is not, as posed by climate change sceptics, whether this catastrophe is so alarming that humans need to act on it immediately, but how long can humankind afford to remain impervious to something that is so glaring?” he added.

Dr. Ravichandran said that he hopes that having his students focus on novels and films in the ‘cli-fi’ genre will foster a change in mind-set that can open them up to thinking about the sustainable use of scarce resources and ensuring the symbiotic sustenance of the human and the nonhuman on Earth.

Students in the pioneering IITK course will be reading such novels as “Year of the Flood,” “A Friend of the Earth,” and “Flight Behavior.”

In additon, movies such as “Interstellar,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Day after Tomorrow” will be screened and discussed, Dr. Ravichandran said.

As a reporter from North America who has been closely following the rise of the cli-fi genre in the West, I am glad to see IITK in India offering a course like this to its engineering students. Call it a meme, a motif, a cultural prism, a buzzword, a PR tool, or a marketing term, ”cli-fi” is here to stay and India has just joined the club.

In fact, with this course, the first of its kind in India, the professor and his students will be making history, and I hope the media in Uttar Pradesh and beyond will pick up this story as a news story in English and Hindi.

Professor Ravichandran’s novel course could very well become a role model for other academics in India to follow.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Global Citizenship Essential for Gender Equality: Ambassador Chowdhury Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:34:02 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

At a recent panel discussion on women’s leadership during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was the lone male voice.

"Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world," Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

“Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world,” Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

In front of an audience of every creed, colour and culture, the decorated diplomat and former president of the United Nations Security Council tied the advancement of women’s causes to one of his pet causes: the idea of ‘global citizenship,’ of humans growing and learning and acting and working with consideration of their place in the global community.

“Being globally connected, emerging as global citizens, will help women achieve equality and help them show leadership,” Chowdhury told the packed room on Mar. 17.

“Each one of us needs to be globally connected. The days of staying in our national boundaries are gone. It is necessary to see women’s rights and equality as human issues, not women’s issues,” he said. “Men and women together, we have the power to empower.”

Through decades in diplomacy, the Bangladesh-born Chowdhury has served in some of the U.N’s highest posts, including under-secretary-general and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, president of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and vice-president of the Economic and Social Council, as well as serving two terms as Security Council president.

This idea of global citizenship is one he has proudly championed, pushing for greater education for young people to know and appreciate their place in the world, and how they can understand global challenges.

Chowdhury said the concept had existed for some time, but gained international prominence when it was enshrined – alongside increasing school enrolment and improving quality of education – as one of three priorities on the Secretary-General’s ‘Global Education First Initiative’ (GEFI) in 2012.

“Global citizenship is your ability and capacity to think as part one broad humanity. It is believing in ‘oneness’ of humanity, that we are all connected and interconnected, all interdependent,” Chowdhury told IPS.

“Humanity cannot make progress without all of us feeling that way. Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world. Nothing and no one can feel independent of connection with the world.”

Placing global citizenship alongside such foundational educational aspirations as increasing numbers of children attending school, and raising the quality of those schools, illustrates the extent to which the U.N. supports the concept.

In contrast to the concrete, empirical first and second goal, a brochure produced in conjunction with the launch of the GEFI outlined global citizenship as a more esoteric, ethereal concept; concerned not so much with achieving a certain statistic or milestone, but with bringing about a more fundamental shift in how education itself is delivered.

“Interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life,” the brochure stated.

“It must cultivate an active care for the world… education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day… it must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century.”The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world.

Chowdhury cited economic development, climate change and peace as the three major challenges that require advanced global citizenship to find a solution.

“Nobody can just get a normal degree from a university and think that knowledge will carry them through. They have to know what’s happening in the rest of the world. We have a better world if we feel for others in need who are impoverished and going through challenges,” he said.

“The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world. Being born a human has some responsibility, and that entails being aware of the challenges and how best you can contribute to resolving them.”

In his presentation to the CSW panel, Chowdhury invoked women in Africa – who he said “faced the heaviest odds in the world on many fronts” – as a source of inspiration for women worldwide fighting for gender equality.

“I am personally encouraged to see the leadership of African women. They face heavy odds, but come up with enormous amounts of energy, creativity and leadership to make their presence felt,” he said.

In speaking with IPS, he invoked global citizenship as a basic cornerstone for effective leadership moving toward a sustainable international future – but said that some foundational aspects of current education would need to be remoulded to achieve the ideal learning system to craft successful global citizens.

“Sometimes people in industrialised countries think they know everything, that their education is the best, but in many cases those students have the least knowledge of the challenges in other parts of the world. The majority of the world’s population are going through concerns not even known to people in other parts of the world,” Chowdhury said.

“People are told they learn to get a degree, to get a job, to get money. That is the central focus in many countries. Really, the most important thing is to learn about the world, its diversity, that there are many languages and cultures and ethnicities.”

Both Chowdhury and the GEFI cited numerous barriers to implementing better systems to teach global citizenship, including outdated teaching methods and equipment, insufficient teacher capacity to teach such concepts, and the costs of updating or reforming such systems.

“Reviews from around the world find that today’s curricula and textbooks often reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate social divisions, and foster fear and resentment of other groups or nationalities. Rarely are curricula developed through a participatory process that embraces excluded and marginalized groups,” the GEFI brochure stated.

Chowdhury, however, stressed that the costs of inaction far outweighed the costs and difficulty of reforming educational systems.

“We have ignored global citizenship and interconnectedness, valued independence of our countries, and conflict is happening. Economic development, trade regimes, all these things are are seriously affected if we don’t [change],” he said.

“This is why we are stepping up our concern and interest in promoting global citizenship as a value to be added to humanity’s opportunities.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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