Inter Press ServiceInequality – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 25 Nov 2017 00:08:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Talking Openly – The Way to Prevent Teenage Pregnancyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy/#respond Fri, 08 Jul 2016 18:39:09 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145981 In plain and simple language, an Argentine video aimed at teenagers explains how to get sexual pleasure while being careful. Its freedom from taboos is very necessary in Latin American countries where one in five girls becomes a mother by the time she is 19 years old. “For good sex to happen, both partners have […]

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A teenage mother and her toddler in Bonpland, a rural municipality in the northern province of Misiones in Argentina. Latin America has the second highest regional rate of early pregnancies in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A teenage mother and her toddler in Bonpland, a rural municipality in the northern province of Misiones in Argentina. Latin America has the second highest regional rate of early pregnancies in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 8 2016 (IPS)

In plain and simple language, an Argentine video aimed at teenagers explains how to get sexual pleasure while being careful. Its freedom from taboos is very necessary in Latin American countries where one in five girls becomes a mother by the time she is 19 years old.

“For good sex to happen, both partners have to want it and this is as much about being sure they want it, as about being in the mood or ‘hot’ with desire,” said psychologist Cecilia Saia who made the video “Let’s talk About Sex” (Hablemos de sexo), aimed at adolescents and preadolescents and posted on social networks.

The video was produced by Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM – Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research) as part of a Take the Non-Pregnancy Test campaign. It was also distributed to teenagers so they “would be able to take free and informed decisions about becoming mothers and fathers.” “Keeping children in the education system or bringing them back into it would be effective interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact” - Alma Virginia Camacho-Hübner.

During the campaign, teenagers of both sexes were given boxes similar in appearance to pregnancy test kits, containing information about teenage pregnancy and the myths surrounding how it is caused, as well as condoms and instructions on how to use them, Mabel Bianco, the president of FEIM, told IPS.

The campaign was broadcast on YouTube and other social networks, with candid messages in the language used by adolescents. “This meant we could reach a large numbers of 14-to-18-year-olds, an age group that such campaigns usually find hard to reach,” she said.

According to FEIM, in Argentina 300 babies a day, or 15 percent of the total, are born to mothers aged under 19.

“This percentage has shown a sustained increase over the last 10 to 15 years, and the proportion of births to girls under 15 years of age has also risen,” Bianco said.

Argentina exemplifies what is happening in the rest of Latin America, which is the world region with the second highest teenage fertility rate, after sub-Saharan Africa. The national rate in Argentina is 76 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years, according to United Nations’ demographic statistics.

In order to call attention to this problem and to the general need to promote the equal development of women, Investing in Teenage Girls is the theme of this year’s World Population Day, to be celebrated July 11.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that one in five women in the Southern Cone of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) will become a teenage mother, in an area where over 1.2 million babies a year are born to adolescents.

“Early pregnancy and motherhood can bring about health complications for mother and baby, as well as negative impacts over the course of the lives of adolescents,” says a UNFPA report about fertility and teenage motherhood in the Southern Cone.

The report says that “when pregnancy is unplanned, it is a clear indication of the infringement of teenagers’ sexual and reproductive rights and hence of their human rights.”

Alma Virginia Camacho-Hübner, UNFPA sexual and reproductive health adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that teenage pregnancy has implications for individual patients, such as maternal morbidity and mortality associated with the risks involved with unsafe abortions, among other factors.

Prematurity rates and low birthweights are also several-fold higher, especially among mothers younger than 15.

For health services, the costs of prenatal care, childbirth, postnatal care and care of the newborn are far higher than the cost of interventions to prevent pregnancy and promote health education.

“For society as a whole, from a strictly economic point of view, in countries that enjoy a demographic dividend, early motherhood represents an accelerated loss of that demographic dividend,” Camacho-Hübner said from the UNFPA regional headquarters in Panama City.

This is because “instead of increasing economic productivity by having a larger economically active proportion of the population, a rise in early motherhood causes a rapid rise in the dependency ratio, that is the proportion of the population that is not economically active and requires support from family or society,”she said.

The Southern Cone study found that dropping out of school usually preceded getting pregnant.

“Therefore, keeping children in the education system or bringing them back into it would be effective interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact,” Camacho-Hübner said.

In her view, teen pregnancy and motherhood are an issue of inequality which mainly affects women in lower socio-economic strata.

“It is teenagers from the poorest families and with the least education, living in underprivileged geographical regions, that are most prone to becoming adolescent mothers,” she said.

“Becoming mothers at an early age reinforces conditioning and the inequalities in the process by which teenagers who are, and who are not, mothers, effect the transition into adulthood,” she said.

“The main consequence of pregnancy is the interruption of schooling, although in many cases they have already dropped out by the time they become pregnant. But they do not go back to school afterwards because they have to look after the baby,” Bianco said.

“This makes for a poorer future, as these girls will have access to lower-paid jobs and will be able to contribute less to the country’s development. On the personal level, they will have to postpone their adolescence, they cannot go out with friends, go dancing and other typical teen activities,” she said.

Federico Tobar, another UNFPA regional adviser, said that “in addition to strengthening health, education and social services, there must be investment to promote demand, with interventions to motivate young people to build a sustained life project.”

“This involves incorporating economic incentives as well as symbolic remuneration, and also concrete childcare support for teenage mothers so that they can finish school and avoid repeated childbearing, which is frequently seen in these countries,” he told IPS.

Among other positive experiences, Tobar mentioned the Uruguayan initiative “Jóvenes en red” (Young People’s Network) which includes returning to school and work, and promotion of sexual and reproductive health.

“I believe it is important to invest in the education of teenage women, including comprehensive sex education and the capacity to decide whether or not they wish to have children. It is not a question of eliminating all pregnancy in adolescence, but of making it a conscious choice rather than an accident,” Bianco said. 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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A Peaceful Decade but Pacific Islanders Warn Against Complacencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency/#respond Fri, 29 Jan 2016 07:03:03 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143723 The Pacific Islands conjures pictures of swaying palm trees and unspoiled beaches. But, after civil wars and unrest since the 1980’s, experts in the region are clear that Pacific Islanders cannot afford to be complacent about the future, even after almost a decade of relative peace and stability. And preventing conflict goes beyond ensuring law […]

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New Year, New Fight Against Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/new-year-new-fight-against-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-year-new-fight-against-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/new-year-new-fight-against-inequality/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 14:15:09 +0000 Jenny Ricks http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143640 Jenny Ricks is Head of Inequality Initiative, ActionAid International

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Jenny Ricks is Head of Inequality Initiative, ActionAid International

By Jenny Ricks
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

With New Year’s resolutions already fading fast for most people, attention turns to what 2016 will really hold. And so it is for those wanting to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

This week in Davos politicians and business leaders meet at the World Economic Forum, where inequality is once again on the agenda. By common consensus we are living through an inequality crisis, with the gap between the richest and the rest at levels not seen for a century. So what will be different in 2016?

Well, inequality is already recognised as socially and economic harmful by a whole range of influential people such as the Pope, and institutions like the IMF and OECD. We have no shortage of acknowledgement of at least part of the problem. And all countries have pledged to tackle it through the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) and the Climate Accord agreed in Paris in December.

But the problem is far from being resolved. The stark reality in contrast to those commitments is that inequality isn’t being tackled and the status quo approaches that exacerbate inequality are still being followed by the countries and institutions that claim to be tackling it.

So what to do? The challenge now is to go from acknowledging the problem to fixing it. To do that we need three things: a shift in polices, a shift in power, and a shift in mind set and ideas about how change will happen.

Civil society is clear on the contradiction between rhetoric and the reality, as are poor people themselves facing the brunt of these inequalities that ActionAid works with around the world. They are not waiting for world leaders to change their ways, they are busy tackling inequality from its roots and creating a new reality.

Today, leaders from a range of environment, women’s rights, human rights, faith based and development groups and trade unions will spell out what it will really take to tackle inequality and commit to stepping up the fight. This is exciting news.

Why does this agenda matter to such a diverse range of groups? As the joint statement says: “Struggles for a better world are all threatened by the inequality crisis. Workers across the world are seeing their wages and conditions eroded as inequality increases. The rights of women are systematically worse in situations of greater economic inequality.”

The vast majority of the world’s richest people are men; those in the most precarious and poorly paid work are women. Young people are facing a crisis of unemployment. Other groups such as migrants, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI people, people with disability and indigenous people continue to be pushed to the margins, suffering systematic discrimination. The struggle to realise the human rights of the majority are continually undercut in the face of such disparities of wealth and power.

Extreme inequality is also frequently linked to rising restrictions on civic space and democratic rights as political and economic elites collude to protect their interests. The right to peaceful protest and the ability of citizens to challenge the prevailing economic discourse is being curtailed almost everywhere, for elites know that extreme inequality and participatory democracy cannot co-exist for long.

Even the future of our planet is dependent on ending this great divide, with the carbon consumption of the 1% as much as 175 times that of the poorest.”

Though it is going to be a difficult road, we know that change to forge a new economic system that puts people and the planet first will only be created by a people powered movement. 2016 is not a year of high profile summits and commitments. It’s a year of building power from below, of building a movement in many countries amongst these constituencies and others including social movements and young people.

There is reason for hope and experience to build on. We know this is possible because of what we see in our work with communities around the world, because of some positive current examples and past periods of reducing inequality in countries such as Brazil, and because people have won great struggles before. This new struggle against inequality has started in earnest.

(End)

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Wrong Time of the Month: a Rights Gap for Developing Countries’ Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls/#respond Thu, 07 Jan 2016 10:23:11 +0000 Gina Din and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143529 Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.

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Latin America to Push for Food Security Laws as a Blochttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc/#respond Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:41:22 +0000 Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143030 Lawmakers in the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean decided at a regional meeting to work as a bloc for the passage of laws on food security – an area in which countries in the region have show uneven progress. The Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger […]

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A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro
LIMA, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Lawmakers in the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean decided at a regional meeting to work as a bloc for the passage of laws on food security – an area in which countries in the region have show uneven progress.

The Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) in Lima, Peru drew more than 60 legislators from 17 countries in the region and guest delegations from parliaments in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The coordinator of the regional Front, Ecuadorean legislator María Augusta Calle, told IPS that the challenge is to “harmonise” the region’s laws to combat poverty and hunger in the world’s most unequal region.

Calle added that a number of laws on food security and sovereignty have been passed in Latin America, and the challenge now is to standardise the legislation in all of the countries participating in the PFH to strengthen policies that bolster family farming.“We have reduced hunger by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.” -- María Augusta Calle

In Latin America, 81 percent of domestically consumed food products come from small farmers, who guarantee food security in the region, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has advised the PFH since its creation in 2009.

Twelve of the 17 Latin American countries participating in the PFH already have food security and sovereignty laws, Calle said. But it has not been an easy task, she added, pointing out that several of the laws were approved only after long delays.

During the inauguration of the Sixth Forum, she said the region has reduced hunger “by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.”

The fight against hunger is an uphill task, and the forum’s host country is a clear illustration of this.

In Peru, the draft law on food security was only approved by Congress on Nov. 12, after two years of debate. The legislature finally reacted, just three days before the Sixth Forum began in the country’s capital. But the bill still has to be signed into law and codified by the executive branch, in order to be put into effect.

“How can it be possible for a government to put forth objections to a law on food security?” Peruvian Vice President Marisol Espinoza asked during the opening of the Sixth Forum.

Espinoza, who left the governing Peruvian Nationalist Party in October, took the place of President Ollanta Humala, who had been invited to inaugurate the Sixth Forum.

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS that he hopes the government will sign the new food security bill into law without setting forth observations.

Indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who took part in the Sixth Forum in representation of rural communities in Peru, said the government should pass laws to protect peasant farmers because they are paid very little for their crops, even though they supply the markets in the cities.

“What the government has to do is regulate this, for the citizens,” Buendía, who belongs to the Asháninka people, told IPS. “Why do we have a government that is not going to defend us? As we say in our community: ‘why do I have a father (the government)?’ If they want investment, ok, but they have to regulate.”

Another controversial question in the case of Peru is the more than two-year delay in the codification and implementation of the law on healthy food for children and adolescents, passed in May 2013, which requires that companies that produce food targeting this age group accurately label the ingredients.

Congressman Delgado said food companies are lobbying against the law, which cannot be put into effect until it is codified.

“It would be pathetic if after so much sacrifice to get this law passed, the government failed to codify it because of the pressure from business interests,” said Delgado.

He said that in Peru, over 200 million dollars are invested in advertising for junk food every year, according to a 2012 study by the Radio and Television Consultative Council.

Calle, from Ecuador, said the members of the PFH decided to call for the entrance into effect of the Peruvian law, in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration.

“The 17 countries (that belong to the PFH) are determined to see the law on healthy food codified in Peru. We believe it is indispensable. It is a wonderful law,” said the legislator.

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

She explained that in her country food and beverage companies have been required to use labels showing the ingredients, despite the opposition from the business sector.

“In Ecuador we have had a fabulous experience (regarding labels for junk food) which we would like businesses here in Peru to understand and not be afraid of,” Calle said.

The regional coordinator of the PFH said that to address the problem of food being seen as business rather than a right, “we need governments and parliaments committed to the public, rather than to transnational corporations.”

Another country that has made progress is Brazil, where laws in favour of the right to food include one that requires that at least 30 percent of the food that goes into school meals is purchased from local small farmers, Nazareno Fonseca, a member of the PFH regional consultative council, told IPS.

Calle said Brazil’s efforts to boost food security, in the context of its “Zero Hunger” programme, marked a watershed in Latin America.

The PFH regional coordinator noted that the person responsible for implementing the programme in the crucial first two years (2003-2004) as extraordinary food security minister was José Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO since 2011.

Spanish Senator José Miguel Camacho said it is important for legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean to act as a bloc because “there is still a long way to go, but these forums contribute to that goal.”

The commitments in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration will focus on three main areas: food security, where the PFH is working on a single unified framework law; school feeding; and efforts to fight overnutrition, obesity and junk food.

Peru’s health minister, Aníbal Velásquez, said the hope is that “the commitments approved at the Sixth Forum will translate into laws.”

And the president of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Iberico, said people did not enjoy true citizenship if basic rights were not guaranteed and hunger and poverty still existed.

The indigenous leader Buendía, for her part, asked the PFH legislators for a greater presence of the authorities in rural areas, in order for political declarations to produce tangible results.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Angus Deaton: An Appreciationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/angus-deaton-an-appreciation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=angus-deaton-an-appreciation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/angus-deaton-an-appreciation/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 13:27:47 +0000 Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142732 Raghav Gaiha is Visiting Scientist, Global Aging Programme at the Harvard School of Public Health. The views expressed are personal.

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Raghav Gaiha is Visiting Scientist, Global Aging Programme at the Harvard School of Public Health. The views expressed are personal.

By Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

After Adam Smith and Amartya Sen, Angus Deaton, this year’s Nobel laureate in economics, has contributed most to broaden and enrich our understanding of human well-being. His brilliant and path-breaking contributions to the theory and measurement of consumption, poverty, inequality, nutrition – and, more recently, aging, morbidity and suicides – have inspired a generation of economists to carry out reformulations, refinements and extensions.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Multilaterals, donors and national policy makers have not been far behind in rethinking development priorities and policies. Blending micro and macro- economics in remarkably creative ways and expanding frontiers of our knowledge through meticulous and innovative empirical validation, Deaton remains peerless. This endorsement, however, does not imply that he hasn’t had his share of controversies.

Much much has been written about his contributions to demand theory, demonstrating how interdependent demands are for different commodities through relative prices, why consumption is more volatile than income if aggregated from individual choices, the pitfalls in measuring poverty and inequality globally and nationally and his emphasis on carefully designed household surveys.

More, however, needs to be said on some of these propositions and on his more recent contributions to understanding human well-being through self-assessed measures of well-being and health status, aging, morbidity and mortality.

His distrust of causal inferences drawn from standard econometric techniques and the current fad of randomised controlled trials (RCTs), and why foreign aid may do more harm than good under certain circumstances cannot be dismissed lightly but remain controversial.

Let me begin with his deep scepticism of global poverty estimates that the World Bank produces periodically. The estimation requires (i) purchasing power parity ratios or PPPs (i.e. how many dollars are needed to buy a dollar’s worth of goods in the country, say India, as compared to the United States); and (ii) determination of a poverty cut-off point. The latter is taken to be the average of the national poverty lines of the poorest 15 countries in the world in PPP. In admirably lucid comments, Deaton draws attention to some flaws in the construction of PPS and their comparability over time, and determination of the poverty line. The revision of the 1993 PPS in 2005, and a higher poverty line of $1.25 (instead of $1.08) resulted in a jump of the global count of the poor for 1993 by half a billion. Likening it to an “earthquake”, Deaton pointed out that this had little to do with the revision of the PPPs and largely a result of a “faulty” poverty line. As India became richer, and its poverty line was much lower, it graduated out of the 15 poorest countries, and the average poverty line of the new 15 poorest countries rose. As a result, India’s prosperity left India and the rest of the world poorer. His eminently sensible suggestion is to estimate global poverty using India’s original poverty line or the average of the same 15 poorest countries. As he elaborates, “ …the world count would simply be the number of people living below the poverty line set in India when a large fraction of its population was destitute”.

Inspired by Sen’s focus on human functionings and capabilities, Deaton is emphatic that income-based measures of poverty risk missing important features of it. As an illustration, a government that raises taxes to pay for better public services, or better public health, may increase income poverty, while poverty or deprivations more broadly decrease. In a similar vein but in striking contrast to Picketty’s blockbuster, Capital in the 21st Century, Deaton takes a much broader view of inequality transcending its narrow economic boundaries. Much of his recent work accordingly focuses on health inequity by country/region, age, gender and over time. Many of the insights are rich and fascinating and some are surprising.

Not a narrow economist, Deaton argues compassionately that health inequalities are a moral concern. But whether these are seen as injustices depends greatly on how these come about. He argues that childhood inequalities arising from parental circumstances are key to understanding many of these injustices. So public interventions designed to mitigate harshness of such circumstances are necessary.

In a succinct and definitive observation, he points out that “The stories about income inequality affecting health are stronger than the evidence.” A case in point is that infant and child mortality in developing countries is “primarily a consequence of poverty so that, conditional on average income, income inequality is important only because it is effectively a measure of poverty. ” But this is only a small part of the explanation as mother’s health and literacy, hygiene and sanitation, low birthweight and discrimination between boys and girls matter immensely. Some of these concerns receive critical attention in other studies.

Taller populations are richer, and taller individuals live longer and earn more. In order to understand the relationship between health and wealth, he investigated the childhood determinants of population adult height, focusing on the roles of income and disease. In a sample of European countries and USA, there is a strong inverse relationship between post-neonatal (one month to one year) mortality, as a proxy for disease and nutritional burden, and the mean height of those children as adults.

In a further scrutiny of the “wealthier is healthier” hypothesis, Deaton and Case report direct comparisons of a number of objective and subjective measures of economic and health status in two sites, one in the district of Udaipur in rural Rajasthan, and one in the shack township of Khayelitsha near Cape Town. This hypothesis is rejected in both cases. To illustrate, the economically better-off South Africans are healthier in some respects, but not in others. They are taller and heavier, but their self-assessed health is no better; they suffer from depression and anxiety to the same degree. The explanation lies in the multidimensionality of health, weak correlations between some components, and with income.

A distillation of his recent research is contained in his book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality, 2013. His major conclusion is that not only people are becoming more prosperous but also they are living longer and are taller and stronger. The gap between life expectancy in advanced countries and the developing world has shrunk. However, a stark reality is that a billion poor are stuck in abject poverty and low life expectancy. His assertion that aid is likely to do more harm than good because governments are weak, fragile and corrupt is not without merit but contestable.

In an analysis based on the Gallup World Poll, Deaton investigates the relationship between subjective well-being and age. One of his major findings is that there is a U-shaped relationship between evaluative well-being (or life satisfaction) and age in high income, English speaking countries, with the lowest level of wellbeing in the age-group 45-54 years. But this pattern is not universal. The relation between physical health and well-being is bidirectional. Older people with coronary heart disease and arthritis, for example, exhibit higher levels of depression and impaired hedonic wellbeing (feelings of happiness, sadness and pain). But wellbeing could also have a protective role in health maintenance.

Deaton’s enthusiasm for using subjective wellbeing and self rated health status measures, based on Gallup Poll and other similar surveys, rests on the premise that instead of relying on revealed preference through markets we might as well use actual preferences. But the important point is that revealed preferences are subject to some restrictions consistent with rationality while actual preferences are not. Also, some of the simplistic statistical methods and averages used are far from persuasive and intriguing. My admiration for Deaton’s scholarship, however, remains undiminished by these disagreements.

(End)

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Social Programmes Here to Stay in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/social-programmes-here-to-stay-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-programmes-here-to-stay-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/social-programmes-here-to-stay-in-argentina/#respond Tue, 13 Oct 2015 20:19:07 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142683 Above and beyond the uncertainty about the direction that Argentina’s economy will take after the Oct. 25 presidential elections, the government’s main social programmes, which have helped bring down poverty levels in the last decade, are definitely here to stay, no matter who is elected. There are no uniform statistics on the number of beneficiaries, […]

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Electoral Revolution in Brazil Aimed at Neutralising Corporate Influencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence/#respond Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:45:49 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142533 From now on, elections in Brazil will be more democratic, without corporate interference, which had become decisive and corruptive. A Sep. 17 Supreme Court ruling declared unconstitutional articles of the elections act that allow corporate donations to election campaigns. The 8-3 verdict came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Brazilian Bar Association […]

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Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

From now on, elections in Brazil will be more democratic, without corporate interference, which had become decisive and corruptive. A Sep. 17 Supreme Court ruling declared unconstitutional articles of the elections act that allow corporate donations to election campaigns.

The 8-3 verdict came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) against the laws authorising and regulating donations by big corporations to political parties and candidates.

In its challenge to the constitutionality of the elections act articles in question, the OAB argued that they violate the democratic principle – the backbone of the 1988 constitution – which established that all citizens are political equals, with each individual vote carrying the same weight.

The verdict also stated that corporate financing runs counter to the first article of the constitution, which establishes that the political representatives elected by the people must serve the public good and that there must be a strict separation between the public and private spheres.

Citing academic studies, the OAB further asserted that corporate donations transfer economic inequality to the political sphere, negating democracy and tending towards a “plutocracy” or government by the rich.

Campaign donations from corporations give them undue influence over politics by putting candidates in their debt, bound to defend “the economic interests of their donors in the drafting of legislation, the design and execution of the budget, administrative regulation, public tenders and public procurement,” the OAB added.

Corruption is also a major factor in this promiscuous relationship between money and politics. And campaign financing is almost always an element present in political scandals.“The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law.” -- Fernando Lattman-Weltman

Today’s big scandal, which decisively influenced the Supreme Court ruling, involves a kickback scheme in the state-owned oil firm Petrobras, which suffered at least six billion dollars in losses from graft and overvalued assets.

More than 30 politicians have been accused of receiving bribes from large construction and engineering firms in return for inflated contracts, and part of the funds allegedly financed candidates and political parties in election campaigns.

The ban on corporate donations will also lead to a reduction in gender imbalances in politics, sociologist Clara Araujo at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told IPS.

Female candidates receive little campaign funding from their parties, but they are given larger proportions of donations from individuals than from companies, the opposite of male candidates, she said, based on the study “Women in the 2010 Elections”, which she co-authored, and on figures from 2014.

As a result of discrimination by political parties, reflected by underfunding and less advertising time, especially on TV, women are underrepresented in Congress, where they hold only 10 percent of seats in the lower house and 13.6 percent in the Senate, although they make up 52 percent of voters.

“The Supreme Court judgment is good news in the midst of the chaos of Brazil’s political crisis,” because it brings new balance to a game that was unfavourable to women, Guacira de Oliveira, one of the directors of the Feminist Centre of Studies and Advice (CFEMEA), told IPS.

But it has come at a moment of great uncertainty, when the crisis tends to have a greater impact on progressive political currents, and it will not change the rules that maintain inequality within and between the political parties.

Public resources, such as the official Party Fund, and radio and TV time for candidates will continue to benefit the big parties, since they are distributed proportionally to the number of seats held by each party, Oliveira lamented.

Only in-depth political reforms, called for by civil society organisations, could effectively democratise the election process. But the current legislature, where conservative lawmakers are a majority, would never approve that.

Far-reaching political reforms would require a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution – which may become a possibility if the crisis gets worse.

But without corporate donations, “campaigns will suffer a sharp drop in funding, which means candidates and parties will have to cut costs. Internet and the social networks, which already had a growing participation in the elections, will become much more important,” said Fernando Lattman-Weltman, a professor of politics at the UERJ.

“But money will seek other ways to influence politics,” he added. “The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law,” he told IPS.

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Election campaigns have become expensive in Brazil in the last two decades, with the intense use of advertising techniques. Media advisers have become indispensable, and more and more costly to hire. Some have become celebrities, whose fame has transcended national borders.

After their triumphs in Brazil, they have been hired for tens of millions of dollars to head campaigns in other countries of Latin America, or in Africa.

Large campaign teams specialising in working the airwaves and the press have turned election campaigns into a media war between well-paid armies of advisers, following the U.S. model, with ongoing qualitative surveys providing guidance for speeches, slogans and TV ads and appearances.

Now candidates will have to return to the basics: personal speeches, direct public relations, street rallies and armies of volunteers, said Lattman-Weltman.

Without resources to produce and broadcast sophisticated ads, “candidates will try to seduce the media, trying to make them more biased and identified with specific parties,” like in the United States, he said, referring to dangerous side-effects of the new scenario.

Generating new political developments and creativity in campaigns will also become more important factors, he said.

Without the millions of dollars in donations from companies, the game will be less unequal, but candidates who already have power and are well-known by the public, like legislators, governors or other political leaders, will enjoy a big advantage over new candidates, Oliveira said.

That is a disadvantage faced by women in general, who began to participate in elections more recently, and who make up a small minority in the executive and legislative branches – even though one woman, Dilma Rousseff, has been president of this country of 202 million people since 2011.

Celebrities like TV hosts, actors and footballers, along with prominent trade unionists and social activists, will likely be the most sought-after by the parties.

The next elections, for mayors and city councilors in Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities, will be a test of how campaigns will work without legal and illegal donations from the big sponsors, especially in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Statistics from the Superior Electoral Court from 2010 and 2014, when presidential, state and legislative elections were held, point to “a strong correlation between the amount of spending and victory,” said Araujo.

So without a right to vote, companies had become a decisive factor in elections. In other words, “the big voter was money,” said Claudio Weber Abramo, director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency Brazil, in a statement reflected by the OAB in its successful legal challenge that led the Supreme Court to put an end to elections dominated by corporate financing.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How to Fix Environmental Woes in Buenos Aires Shantytownhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown/#respond Fri, 18 Sep 2015 21:06:03 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142421 Children have been poisoned by lead in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown on the south side of the capital of Argentina. Resettling their families involves a socioenvironmental process as complex as the sanitation works in one of the most polluted river basins in the world. As soon as you enter Villa Inflamable, which is located right […]

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Nora Pavón and one of her daughters in the informal garbage dump behind their home. The swamp acts as a sewer in Villa Inflamable, in the suburb of Avellaneda on the south side of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Nora Pavón and one of her daughters in the informal garbage dump behind their home. The swamp acts as a sewer in Villa Inflamable, in the suburb of Avellaneda on the south side of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AVELLANEDA, Argentina, Sep 18 2015 (IPS)

Children have been poisoned by lead in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown on the south side of the capital of Argentina. Resettling their families involves a socioenvironmental process as complex as the sanitation works in one of the most polluted river basins in the world.

As soon as you enter Villa Inflamable, which is located right in the Dock Sud petrochemical hub in the Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda, you taste and feel chemicals and dust particles in your throat, saliva and lungs.

But in this shantytown, where more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution in precarious homes built on top of soil contaminated with toxic waste, the children suffer the problem in their blood.

“When she was one, she had 55 µg of lead in her blood. I had to put her in the hospital,” Brenda Ardiles, a local resident, told IPS, referring to her daughter, who is now three years old. Her other daughter, eight months old, is also suffering from lead poisoning.

Her mother-in-law, Nora Pavón, whose four children also have lead poisoning, said “Every night they get nosebleeds, they can’t stand the headaches, their bones hurt, but since there’s no transportation at night I can’t take them to the emergency room until the next morning.”

Lead poisoning in children is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a blood lead level of greater than 10 micrograms (µg) per decilitre of blood.

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and other chronic health problems, such as stunted growth, hyperactivity and impaired hearing. Young children are the most vulnerable.

“One of my daughters is in third grade and the other is in fourth and they don’t know how to read. The doctors said the delay was caused by lead,” said Pavón.

Villa Inflamable suffers from all of the environmental problems that plague the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which cuts across 14 Buenos Aires municipalities before it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate. Of the more than 120,000 families living in 280 slums along the river, 18,000 are set to be relocated.

On one hand are the companies that pollute the river: petrochemical plants, oil refineries, chemical and fuel storage sites, and toxic waste processing plants.

On the other are the problems typical of poverty, such as substandard housing, flood-prone land, clandestine garbage dumps and a lack of sanitation.

“That lagoon is putrid, I don’t know what they dump there,” said Pavón, pointing to a swamp behind her home surrounded by trash, which functions as a natural sewer in the neighbourhood.

Of the five million people living in the river basin, 35 percent have no piped water and 55 percent have no sewage services.

“A lot of kids have diarrhea. The water pipes are polluted and the clandestine connections aren’t safe,” said Claudia Espínola, with the Junta Vecinal Sembrando Juntos, an organisation of local residents that jugs of clean drinking water in Villa Inflamable.

The industrial area in the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. There are 13,000 companies registered by ACUMAR along the riverbank, 7,000 of which are industrial. The agency has identified 1,254 toxic substances. Some 900 factories have presented reconversion plans. Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The industrial area in the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. There are 13,000 companies registered by ACUMAR along the riverbank, 7,000 of which are industrial. The agency has identified 1,254 toxic substances. Some 900 factories have presented reconversion plans. Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) – created in 2006 – to clean up the area. In 2011, ACUMAR established an integral environmental clean-up plan.

The plan, whose goals include sustainable development, involves the reconversion of factories, the clean-up of rivers and riverbanks, garbage collection and treatment, water treatment and drainage works, and slum redevelopment or relocation.

It covers a total of 1,600 projects to be completed by 2024, including the construction of 1,900 housing units, with a total investment of four billion dollars.

“They offered us another place, but I said no because we are three families, 15 people living in this house. We couldn’t have fit in the other one, even if we worked wonders,” said Pavón, who did accept the offer of a second housing unit, although she complained that there wasn’t room for the children to play.

Many families did not accept the resettlement, for a variety of reasons. Some did not like the houses offered, while others were simply unaware of how serious the contamination was in their neighbourhood.

“Sometimes the houses are small, and many families are used to large lots. Others work or have their businesses in their homes, they’re garbage recyclers, and they don’t know how they could continue to work there,” Espínola told IPS.

Another reason, more difficult to solve, is the rivalry between the football teams of the old neighbourhood and the new one where they are to be resettled, also in the suburb of Avellaneda.

“It’s a longstanding problem between the fans of the Dock Sud and San Telmo clubs, a rivalry that is sometimes violent. It’s a cultural problem that we think we can work through, which we’re trying to do,” she said.

In Villa Inflamable, an environmental health centre now monitors the levels of contamination.

But according to Leandro García Silva, the head of environment and sustainable development in the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación, or ombudsperson’s office, which is monitoring compliance with the court-ordered clean-up, a risk map is needed first.

“The health system doesn’t have many tools to act on illnesses arising from environmental questions because the doctor can’t write a prescription for cleaning up the environment. We need to adapt public health tools to this new problem,” he said.

A street in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown in southern Buenos Aires, in the Dock Sud petrochemical complex on the banks of the Matanzas-Riachuelo River. In that neighbourhood, more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution and toxic waste, which are poisoning their children. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A street in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown in southern Buenos Aires, in the Dock Sud petrochemical complex on the banks of the Matanzas-Riachuelo River. In that neighbourhood, more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution and toxic waste, which are poisoning their children. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

At the same time, ACUMAR has undertaken ambitious infrastructure projects, like the construction of an 11-km sewage collector and an 11.5-km outfall, with 840 million dollars in financing from the World Bank. The project, which will prevent the direct discharge of untreated sewage into the Río de la Plata, is to be completed in 2016.

ACUMAR director of institutional relations Antolín Magallanes told IPS that the collector is a tunnel on one side of the Riachuelo to carry sewage to two settling tanks in Dock Sud and Berazategui. The tank is already operating in the latter.

“The collector is very important because 70 or 80 percent of the pollution in the Riachuelo comes from sewage. This will almost completely resolves the issue,” he said.

In addition, six waterfall aeration stations will be built to add oxygen to the water, projected by the Argentina’s water and sanitation utility, AySa, and the University of Buenos Aires.

“The clean-up chapter is extremely important; the planned infrastructure works will provide greater sanitation and treatment, above all in sewage effluent and the potable water supply,” said Javier García Espil, coordinator of the Riachuelo team in the Defensoría.

“But if this is not accompanied by environmental management – that is, zoning, monitoring of industries, flood control, and new forms of using this territory – it would be a limited response,” he told IPS.

ACUMAR stepped up inspections in this region, which accounts for 30 percent of Argentina’s GDP.

“We have around 13,000 registered companies, of which some 7,000 are industrial, and we have identified 1,254 pollutants. Some 900 have already presented reconversion plans,” said ACUMAR’s Magallanes.

The Defensoría recognises these advances but says the credit made available for the reconversions and strategic plans has been insufficient.

“The problem is not simply inspecting and adjusting some process, which is necessary but is part of a bigger problem: defining what kind of industries we want in the future – a major pending challenge,” said the García Espil.

“New mechanisms have to be put in place: environmental management with zoning, taking into consideration the capacity of ecosystems, and the complexity of the territory, involving social participation,” said García Silva.

It has been seven years of complex struggle to remedy two centuries of neglect of a river basin which according to Magallanes “has been the historic refuge of millions of people who didn’t have anywhere to go because of social problems.”

Pavón, an immigrant from the northern province of Chaco, summed it up: “I would go back to the Chaco, which is healthier and nicer for raising kids, but there’s no work. I saw on the news that a kid died of malnutrition there.”

She tried to return to her hometown anyway, “to see if the kids’ lead blood levels went down.” But the attempt failed because she couldn’t find work. Between malnutrition and lead, she had to choose lead.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Costa Rica Finally Allows In Vitro Fertilisation after 15-Year Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/#respond Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:45:25 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142370 After banning in vitro fertilisation for 15 years and failing to comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling for nearly three years, Costa Rica will finally once again allow the procedure for couples and women on their own. On Sept. 10, centre-left President Luis Guillermo Solís issued a decree ordering compliance with the […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Antofagasta Mining Region Reflects Chile’s Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/antofagasta-mining-region-reflects-chiles-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antofagasta-mining-region-reflects-chiles-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/antofagasta-mining-region-reflects-chiles-inequality/#respond Fri, 11 Sep 2015 15:52:42 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142349 The inhabitants of the northern Chilean mining region of Antofagasta have the highest per capita income in the country. But some 4,000 local families continue to live in slums – a reflection of one of the most marked situations of inequality in this country. “The contrasts in this region are enormous. The miners earn a […]

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In the city of Calama, the so-called mining capital of Chile in the northern region of Antofagasta, the marked social contrasts are reflected by the proximity of affluent neighbourhoods of modern homes next to shantytowns of tumbledown wooden huts. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In the city of Calama, the so-called mining capital of Chile in the northern region of Antofagasta, the marked social contrasts are reflected by the proximity of affluent neighbourhoods of modern homes next to shantytowns of tumbledown wooden huts. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CALAMA, Chile, Sep 11 2015 (IPS)

The inhabitants of the northern Chilean mining region of Antofagasta have the highest per capita income in the country. But some 4,000 local families continue to live in slums – a reflection of one of the most marked situations of inequality in this country.

“The contrasts in this region are enormous. The miners earn a lot of money, their wages are really high. It’s common to see enormous houses, and hovels just a few metres away,” said Jaime Meza, who lives in the city of Calama.

In the municipality of Calama, where the city is located, there are 37 mining operations. One of them is the Chuquicamata mine, the world’s biggest open-pit copper mine.

The region of Antofagasta has the highest GDP per capita the country, the highest level of economic growth, and the best conditions for achieving development, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Official figures indicate that this region of 625,000 people has an average per capita income of 37,205 dollars a year, nearly eight times the average per capita income of the southern region of Araucanía, which is just 4,500 dollars.

The national average in this country of 17.6 million people is 23,165 dollars.

However, 45,000 people are living in poverty in Antofagasta, including 4,000 in extreme poverty.

In the region, some 4,000 families, representing thousands of people, live in 42 slums.

The city of Calama, known as the “mining capital of Chile”, which calls itself the oasis of the Atacama desert, is located 2,250 metres above sea level, some 240 km from Antofagasta, the regional capital, and 1,380 km north of Santiago.

The city is home to 150,000 people, although the floating population of workers attracted by the mines drives the total up to over 200,000.

In the municipality of Calama, which covers an area of 15,600 sq km, are located four of the eight mines belonging to the state-run copper company, CODELCO, which has majority ownership of the industry and is the world’s biggest copper producer.

The city of Calama describes itself as an oasis hidden in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world. It is also a strategic hub of mining in the region of Antofagasta in northern Chile, where copper mining is the main economic activity. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The city of Calama describes itself as an oasis hidden in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world. It is also a strategic hub of mining in the region of Antofagasta in northern Chile, where copper mining is the main economic activity. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A large part of the 57,000 immigrants living in the region, which borders Argentina and Bolivia and is not far from Peru, are in Calama, drawn by the mining industry.

The mix of nationalities can be seen on a day-to-day basis, such as in the waiting room at a public hospital.

“This is definitely a multicultural city,” Dr. Rodrigo Meza at the Doctor Carlos Cisternas de Calama hospital told IPS. “Of all the births at our hospital, 40 percent are to immigrant women.”

In a short tour of the run-down centre of Calama, which stands in sharp contrast to the better-off parts of the city, visitors run into immigrants from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

“It’s harder to find a Chilean than a foreigner on these streets,” said Sandra from Colombia, in downtown Calama.

The foreign labour force is mainly engaged in domestic service, in the case of women, and in professional and technical jobs or manual labour in mining or construction, in the case of men.

A significant number of immigrant women are also involved in prostitution, traditionally a service in high demand in mining towns, where there are many men on their own.

Meanwhile, the profits raked in by the Calama casino grow around 10 percent a year, and the city’s commercial centre receives over 10 million visitors a year.

“A miner with little experience can start out earning nearly one million pesos (some 1,500 dollars) a month, and the wages just go up from there,” Jaime Meza told IPS. He works in a company that provides consulting services in social responsibility to mining companies, which leads him to constantly visit the mines.

But life in this city is expensive. One kilo of bread, a staple of the Chilean diet, costs over two dollars, and typical housing for a middle-class family costs 150,000 dollars. But “there is money and people willing to pay,” a local shopkeeper told IPS.

By contrast, the minimum wage in Chile is just 350 dollars a month, and many immigrants in Calama earn only half that, since they work without any formal job contract or social security coverage.

The inequality is put on display when the mining companies pay their workers special bonuses at the end of each collective bargaining session.

The bonuses are worth thousands of dollars and local businesses simultaneously launch special sales to draw in customers.

“The contrasts in this city are tremendous. The miners line up every Friday to withdraw money and go out carousing, spending it on women and alcohol,” taxi driver Francisco Muñoz told IPS.

“The differences are very extreme,” added Muñoz, who was born in Calama and has lived here all his life.

The taxi driver said the situation got worse about seven years ago, when CODELCO decided to move the Chuquicamata mining settlement from its spot 15 km from Calama to the city itself.

Some 3,200 families were the last to be moved from the installations where the CODELCO workers lived in comfort with all the modern amenities.

The miners moved directly to homes built for them, which defined zoning in the city: to the east, the new upscale CODELCO housing, and to the west and the north, the poorer parts of town.

“The miners bought these houses at preferential prices, and CODELCO gave them a bonus so they could easily afford them. But now they are selling them at exorbitant prices. It’s almost inconceivable to think of buying a house in Calama. An ordinary person can only afford (subsidised) state housing, never one of the houses they are selling,” Meza said.

The inequality in mineral-rich Calama led in 2009 to a wave of protests demanding that the municipality receive five percent of the revenue brought in by copper, the country’s main source of wealth.

In 2014 alone, Chile produced 5.7 million tons of copper – 31.2 percent of global output.

The protests over the longstanding neglect of the municipality continue to this day, under the slogan “What would Chile be without Calama?”

The demonstrations, the latest of which took place on Aug. 27, are “a predictable outburst,” in the view of anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes.

“That’s good, because what big outburst do is broaden the avenues of participation,” he told IPS.

He added that the protests will undoubtedly continue as long as there is no concrete response to the demands for more equitable distribution of mining profits in Chile – of which Calama sees very little, even though the mines are in its territory.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: From Inequality to Inclusionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-from-inequality-to-inclusion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-inequality-to-inclusion http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-from-inequality-to-inclusion/#respond Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:57:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142319 Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Recent years have seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in economic inequality, thanks primarily to growing recognition of some of its economic, social, cultural and political consequences in the wake of Western economic stagnation.

The unexpectedly enthusiastic reception for last year’s publication of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” underscores this sea change.New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside.

Piketty has correctly renewed attention to the connections between the functional and household/individual distributions of income as well as to wealth inequality. Clearly, the distribution of wealth (capital, real property) is the major determinant of the functional distribution of income.

And by textbook economics’ definition, profit maximisation involves capturing economic rents of some kind – from finance, monopolistic intellectual property rights (IPRs), ‘competitive advantage’, producer surplus, etc., presumably thanks to successful rent-seeking, by influencing legislation, regulation, public policy, public opinion and consumer preferences.

As is understandable and the norm, Piketty’s focus is on inequality at the national level, rather than at the global level. But Branko Milanovic and others have shown that about two-thirds of overall world interpersonal or inter-household inequality is accounted for by inter-country inequality, with the remaining third due to what may be termed class and other intra-national inequalities.

International inequality

There are many competing explanations for international inequalities. Historical differences in capital accumulation, including public investments, and productivity are commonly invoked to explain different economic capacities, capabilities and incomes.

But frequently unsustainable foreign investments also lead to significant net outflows, greatly diminishing the net benefits from additional economic capacities. Financial flows to the settler colonies from the late 19th century were exceptional in this regard. Generally, a small share of foreign direct investment actually enhances economic capacities, instead mainly contributing to acquisitions and mergers.

Financial globalisation in recent decades, especially capital market flows, have not ensured sustained net flows from capital-rich to capital-poor economies, but has instead worsened financial volatility and instability, increasing the frequency of crises with traumatic effects for the real economy, and growth sustainability.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that international trade lifts all boats, it has generally favoured the richer countries at the expense of their poorer counterparts. For well over a century, except during some notable periods and some rare minerals more recently, the prices of primary commodities have declined against manufactures.

This has been especially true of tropical agriculture compared to temperate products, as productivity gains have accrued to consumers more than to producers. In recent decades, cut-throat competition has meant a similar fate for developing country manufactured exports compared to the large marketing margins of manufactures from developed economies.

Social protection

As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the call to address inequality as a crucial challenge for development has emerged as an issue to be addressed in the post-2015 development framework.

Inequality gradually came back into development debates after the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF focused flagship publications on this issue a decade ago, with the publication of the UN 2005 Report on the World Social Situation entitled The Inequality Predicament, the World Development Report 2006, and the 2007 World Economic Outlook on Globalization and Inequality.

The ongoing effects of the global financial and economic crisis since 2008 have reinforced recognition that inequality has been slowing not only human development, but also economic recovery. But this has not led to any fundamental change in economic policy thinking or a major commitment to redress inequality at the global or even national level, except perhaps by improving taxation.

Instead, it has led to a consensus to establish a global social protection floor, recognising not only that poverty and hunger in the world will not be eliminated by more of the same economic policies, especially with the currently dim prospects for sustained economic and employment recovery and growth.

Historically, the welfare state emerged in developed countries to address deprivations in the formal economy – retirees, retrenched workers, military veterans and mothers among others. Social protection and other fiscal interventions do not fundamentally challenge wealth or income distribution, and current thinking is mindful of the potentially unsustainable burden of a welfare state.

New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside. The new interventions thus seek to accelerate the transition from protection to production, for greater resilience and self-reliance.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Revolutionise Waste Management on Nicaraguan Islandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2015 20:29:48 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142301 A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean. It all began in 2007. María del […]

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Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

By José Adán Silva
ALTAGRACIA, Nicaragua, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean.

It all began in 2007. María del Rosario Gutiérrez remembers her initial interest was piqued when she saw people who scavenged for waste in Managua’s garbage dumps fighting over the contents of bags full of plastic bottles, glass and metal.

How much could garbage be worth for people to actually hurt each other over it? she wondered. She was living in extreme poverty, raising her two children on her own with what she grew on a small piece of communal land in the municipality of Altagracia, and the little she earned doing casual work.

Gutiérrez talked to a neighbour, who told her that in Moyogalpa, the other town on the island, there was an office that bought scrap metal, glass and plastic bottles.

The two women checked around and found in their community a person who bought waste material from local hotels, washed it and sold it to Managua for recycling.

So Gutiérrez, who is now 30 years old, got involved in her new activity: every day she walked long distances with a bag over her shoulder, picking up recyclable waste around the island.

Her neighbour and other poor, unemployed women started to go with her. Then they began to go out on bicycles to pick up garbage along the roads tossed out by tourists, selling the materials to a middleman.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to put food on our tables. And since we didn’t have jobs, it didn’t matter to us how much time it took, although the work was really exhausting at first,” Gutiérrez told IPS.

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Women filling enormous bags with scraps of trash have now become a common sight along the streets on the island.

Seeds of change

Miriam Potoy, with the Fundación entre Volcanes, said her non-governmental organisation decided to support women who were scavenging for a living, starting with a group in Moyogalpa.

“We initially helped them with safety and hygiene equipment, then with training on waste handling and treatment and the diversified use of garbage, so they could sell it as well as learn how to make crafts using the materials collected, to sell them to tourists and earn an extra income,” she told IPS.

Impressed by the women’s efforts, other institutions decided to support them as well.

The Altagracia city government gave them a place to collect, classify and sort the waste, tourism businesses that previously separated their garbage to sell recyclable materials decided to donate them to the women, and food and services companies provided equipment and assistance.

Solidarity and cooperation with the group grew to the point that the city government obtained funds to pay the women nearly two dollars a day for a time, and provide them with free transportation to take their materials to the wharf, where they were shipped to the city of Rivas. From there, the shipments go by road to Managua, 120 km away.

“The community appreciates the women’s work not only because they help keep the island clean, which has clearly improved its image for tourists, but also because they have showed a strong desire to improve their own lives and their families’ incomes,” said Potoy.

And they have done this “by means of a non-traditional activity, which broke down the stereotype of the role women have traditionally played in these remote rural communities,” she said.

Francis Socorro Hernández, another woman from the first batch of recyclers, told IPS that at the start “it was embarrassing for people to see us picking up garbage.”

But she said that after taking workshops on gender issues, administration of micro-businesses, and the environment, “I realised I was doing something important, and that it was worse to live in a polluted environment, resigned to my poverty – and I stopped feeling ashamed.”

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Their work also inspired other initiatives. For example, Karen Paladino, originally from Germany but now a Nicaraguan national, is the director of the community organisation Environmental Education Ometepe, which works with children and young people on the island in environmental awareness-raising campaigns.

When Paladino learned about the work of the recyclers, she got students and teachers in local schools to support their cause, organising clean-up days to collect waste which is donated to the women’s garbage collection and classification centre.

Ometepe is a 276-sq-km natural island paradise in the middle of the 8,624-km Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, in the west of this Central American nation of 6.1 million people.

Not everything is peaches and cream

Of the 10 women who started the collective – now the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia – six are left.

They continue to scavenge for recyclable waste material, removing it from the island and shipping it to Managua, where it is sold. They make enough for their families to scrape by.

Gutiérrez said the mission has been difficult because of the high cost of transport, the job insecurity, and the scant financing they have found.

“We have always had support, thank God; the city government supported us, some hotels have too, people from the European Union gave us funds for improving the conditions of the landfill,” she said.

“But we need more funds, to be able to collect and transport the material, process it, and remove it from the island,” she added.

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

With backing from the EU, the city government of Moyogalpa was able to improve the garbage dumps of the island’s two municipalities. Now there are large sheds in both dumps, where organic material is treated, as well as containers for producing organic compost using worms, and rainwater collection tanks.

The two municipalities also gave the recyclers plots of land for growing their own vegetables and grains for their families.

But the efforts and the solidarity were not sufficient to keep some of the women from dropping out.

As global oil prices plunged, the value of waste products also dropped, and profits did the same, which discouraged some of the women who went back to what they used to do: combining farm work with domestic service.

“I was really committed to the work of collecting garbage, but all of a sudden I felt that the project wasn’t doing well and I needed to feed my family, so I went with my husband to plant beans and vegetables to earn a better income,” María, one of the former members, told IPS.

“But I still collect waste products anyway, and although I’m not participating anymore, I donate them to my former mates in the collective,” said María, who did not give her last name.

But while some of the women dropped out, others joined. “The waste keeps pouring in, and support for our work is going to grow. Our families back us and we are enthusiastic,” one of the new women, Eveling Urtecho, told IPS.

With Gutiérrez’s leadership, backing from the city government, and renewed assistance from the EU, the women are confident that their incomes and working conditions will soon improve.

Ometepe – which means ‘two mountains’ in the Nahuatl tongue – is visited by an average of 50,000 tourists a year, and at least 10 million tons of plastic enter the island annually, according to figures from local environmental groups.

The association of Altagracia gathers between 1,000 and 1,200 kg of plastic a month, and their counterparts in Moyogalpa collect a similar amount.

Until the women launched their revolution, most of the waste in Ometepe ended up strewn about on the streets, in rivers and in backyards, or was burnt in huge piles. When it rained, the water would wash the refuse into the lake.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OECD Urges Further Reforms for an Inclusive South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/oecd-urges-further-reforms-for-an-inclusive-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oecd-urges-further-reforms-for-an-inclusive-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/oecd-urges-further-reforms-for-an-inclusive-south-africa/#respond Sat, 29 Aug 2015 14:42:44 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142187 While lauding South Africa for impressive social progress over the past two decades, a new study has asked the country to build on the successes achieved and reduce inequality further. The latest OECD Economic Survey of South Africa by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says: “South Africa has made impressive social […]

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By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Aug 29 2015 (IPS)

While lauding South Africa for impressive social progress over the past two decades, a new study has asked the country to build on the successes achieved and reduce inequality further.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of South Africa by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says: “South Africa has made impressive social progress over the past two decades, lifting millions of people out of poverty and broadening access to essential services like water, electricity and sanitation. Now is the time to build on these successes to reduce inequality further, create badly needed jobs and ensure stronger, sustainable and more inclusive growth for all.”

The survey, released in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, notes that prudent macroeconomic policies have secured the confidence of financial markets.

However, economic growth has been too slow and further measures are needed to overcome infrastructure bottlenecks, strengthen the business environment, improve labour markets and ensure future spending needs can be financed.

“The National Development Plan sets the direction for reforms needed for a strong and inclusive country. Our survey provides targeted recommendations to reach these objectives,” said Gurría.

“Millions of young South Africans are eager to work, and their potential must not be wasted. Their future is precious enough to justify tough reforms and hard spending choices,” he added.

According to the survey, improving infrastructure will be essential for boosting future growth and living standards while, given the large needs, prioritisation and cost effectiveness will be crucial.

The OECD noted out that the most immediate priority is to secure additional electricity generation capacity by opening the market to independent producers. Opening electricity and transport will require strong and independent regulators to protect households and firms.

The organisation pointed out that improving the regulatory environment would promote entrepreneurship and growth opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which offer the greatest potential for creating jobs and future growth. Reducing barriers to entry, cutting red tape and promoting competition, will be essential.

According to the survey, labour market reforms can raise employment and incomes. Establishing a public employment service as a one-stop shop for job seekers would make it easier for people to find jobs, and for employers to find the right workers.

Costly industrial actions have held back the economy without delivering major gains to workers. The OECD suggests an increased role for mediation and arbitration in order to reduce conflict and provide better outcomes for workers and employers.

The survey pleads for “a high degree of public sector efficiency, prioritisation of spending and a strong revenue base” with a view to meeting public spending needs for infrastructure and the social safety net.

It argues that the South African tax system “is well designed and well administered, but there is scope to broaden key tax bases by reducing deductions, credits and exemptions.  Such tax reform would solidify public finances and make the tax system fairer.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Native Protest Camp in Argentine Capital Fights for Land and Visibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/#respond Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142044 The indigenous camp installed six months ago in the Argentine capital is virtually invisible to passersby who drive or walk quickly around it. The protesters are demanding the return of their land in the northeastern province of Formosa, which has not been fully demarcated and is caught in a web of conflicting economic interests. Since […]

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New Label Defends Family Farming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/#respond Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:58:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141980 It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers. Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late […]

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A stand in the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood. Producers and consumers will now benefit from the label “produced by family farmers”. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers.

Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late getting to the market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood because the heavy rains made it difficult to navigate the dirt roads to their farm, in the municipality of Florencio Varela, 38 km from the capital.

They quickly set up their fruit and vegetable stand as the first customers reach the old warehouse, which was closed down as a market during the severe economic crisis that broke out in late 2001. Today, 25 stands offer products sold by social, indigenous and peasant organisations, which are produced without slave labour and under the rules of fair trade.

“Our vegetables are completely natural. They are grown without toxic agrochemicals,” Araujo told IPS. She is a member of the Florencio Varela Family Farmers Cooperative, which also sells chicken, eggs, suckling pig and rabbit.

Across from Araujo’s stand, Analía Alvarado sells honey, homemade jams, cheese, seeds with nutritional properties, natural juices, olive oil, whole grain bread, organic yerba mate – a traditional caffeinated herbal brew – and dairy products.

Mercosur labels

Argentina’s new label forms part of a collective effort by the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which began to work with such labels four years ago, as part of the Specialised Meeting on Family Agriculture (REAF), Raimundo Laugero explained.

Brazil – a member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – was a pioneer in the bloc, creating a family farming label in 2009, according to the REAF.

Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador also take part in the REAF, which brings together governments and family farming organisations. The REAF announced that in June Chile created its own label, “Manos Campesinas” (peasant hands) for “healthy products of peasant origin, made on a small scale, which foment local development.”

Ecuador and Bolivia have also taken decisive steps towards creating a label that would “defend food sovereignty, rural incomes and access to local foods.” Uruguay, meanwhile, is holding a series of meetings “on the creation of a family agriculture label.”

“The idea is to give small farmers a chance, and here we have people from all around the country, who wouldn’t otherwise have the possibility of selling their goods,” Alvarado said.

The ministry of agriculture, livestock and fishing took another step in that direction with the creation in July of the “Produced by Family Farms” label, “to enhance the visibility of, inform and raise awareness about the significant contribution that family farms make to food security and sovereignty.”

According to the ministry, there are 120,000 family farms in this country of 43 million people, and the sector is “the main supplier of food for the Argentine population, providing approximately 70 percent of the daily diet.”

“A label identifying products grown on family farms not only makes the sector more visible but foments a dialogue between consumers and farmers who have a presence in the countryside across the entire nation, generating territorial sovereignty,” said Raimundo Laugero, director of programmes and projects in the ministry’s family agriculture secretariat.

In the category of family farmers the government includes peasants, small farmers, smallholders, indigenous communities, small-scale fisher families, landless rural workers, sharecroppers, craftspeople, and urban and periurban producers.

In his interview with IPS, Laugero said the label will not only identify products as coming from the family agriculture sector, but will “guarantee health controls, chemical-free and non-industrial production, and production characterised by diversity, unlike monoculture farming.

“When we’re talking about a product from family agriculture, the symbolic value is that they are produced through artisanal processes and with work by the family, and one fundamental aspect is that behind the product are the faces of people who live in the countryside,” he said.

Agriculture is one of the pillars of the economy of this South American nation, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 percent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

María José Otero, a pharmacist, has come a long way to the market on her bicycle, but she doesn’t mind. For her family she wants “the healthiest and most natural diet possible, free of chemicals.”

She also shops here because of “a social question” – she wants to benefit those “who produce natural food without so much industrialisation, while avoiding the middlemen who drive up food prices.

“Besides, I’m really interested in the impact caused by the act of consuming something with awareness,” she added. “That means taking care of the environment where you work, respecting animals. It’s not the same thing to consume eggs from animals that walk about and eat naturally as from animals that are cruelly treated and packed into warehouses, fed in horrible ways.”

Otero said the new label was “great.” “There’s a lot of deception in this also, from people who say they’re selling organic products or products made with a social conscience, and it’s a lie. This label gives you a guarantee,” she said.

“This will especially help the public become aware of what it means to help small farmers. So they can realise that what they pay and what they consume really goes to them, and for the people who do the work to really get paid what they are due,” Alvarado said.

Laugero also stressed that a significant aspect of the new label is that it is linked to “participatory guarantee systems for agroecological products.”

He pointed out that normally when farmers apply for a label recognising their products, they need to turn to a company that carries out the certification process, while the concept “agroecological” has other components.

He mentioned six pilot projects in Argentina, of participatory guarantee systems – basically locally focused quality assurance systems – for agroecological products, which involve organised farmers and consumers, and which the state will now support as well.

“With the label, they’re going to do much better, because they’ll have a more massive reach, and more people will be included,” he said.

At the Bonpland market, Claudia Giorgi, a member of the La Asamblearia cooperative, which works as part of a network with other social organisations, is preparing shipments to another province which will use the same transportation to send products back, to cut costs.

Giorgi makes papaya preserves. But she also sells products from other cooperatives like natural cosmetics, lavender soap, medicinal herbs, pesticide-free tea, mustard and different kinds of flour.

“What is produced in each social organisation is traded for products from other groups, at each organisation’s cost, which is the producers’ costs plus what is spent on logistics,” she explained to IPS.

She said she didn’t have any information yet about the new label, but believes that it will be a good thing if it proves to be “functional” and if it differs from labels that “are profit-making schemes” and “have a cost.”

The resolution creating the new label states that one of the aims is to “promote new channels of marketing and sales points.”

Laugero noted that besides accounting for 20 percent of agricultural GDP, family farming represents 95 percent of goat production, 22 percent of cattle production, 30 percent of sheep production, 33 percent of honey production, 25 percent of fruit production, 60 percent of fresh vegetables, and 15 percent of grains.

“But that doesn’t always translate into profits,” he said. “We need to work hard on those aspects so that income also ends up in the hands of family farmers.”

In her case, Araujo puts the emphasis on solving even more simple problems, such as finding transportation for her vegetables to the market, even when it rains.

“They should fix our dirt roads,” she said, clarifying that small farmers themselves have offered to participate in the task.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Anti-Poverty Programmes Are Losing the Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/mexicos-anti-poverty-programmes-are-losing-the-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-anti-poverty-programmes-are-losing-the-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/mexicos-anti-poverty-programmes-are-losing-the-battle/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:46:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141871 While most of Latin America has been reducing poverty, Mexico is moving in the other direction: new official figures reflect an increase in the number of poor in the last two years, despite the billions of dollars channeled into a broad range of programmes aimed at combating the problem. The negative impact of the 2014 […]

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A mother eats lunch with her children in a rural Mexican school, as part of one of the programmes that fall under the umbrella of the Crusade Against Hunger. Credit: Government o Mexico

A mother eats lunch with her children in a rural Mexican school, as part of one of the programmes that fall under the umbrella of the Crusade Against Hunger. Credit: Government o Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

While most of Latin America has been reducing poverty, Mexico is moving in the other direction: new official figures reflect an increase in the number of poor in the last two years, despite the billions of dollars channeled into a broad range of programmes aimed at combating the problem.

The negative impact of the 2014 fiscal reform, poorly-designed and mismanaged public policies, sluggish economic growth, and family incomes that have been frozen are all factors underlying the rise in the number of people living in poverty in the region’s second-most populous country, according to experts consulted by IPS.

“We have some well-designed social programmes, but many others have got off track,” said Edna Jaime, the head of México Evalúa, a think tank on public policies. “They claim to fight poverty and foment employment, but they have no effect. Many are captive; they serve political clientele instead of the public,” she told IPS.“If productivity and wages don’t go up, poverty won’t be reduced via the route of incomes. The provision of social services like healthcare, education and housing must be guaranteed, as well as more rational and better designed budgets for anti-poverty programmes and policies.” – Edna Jaime

The criticism is focused on initiatives like the Programme of Direct Support for the Countryside (PROCAMPO), which will shell out some four billion dollars in subsidies this year – money that will mainly benefit big agroexporters in northern Mexico, even though the programme was initially aimed at helping small-scale farmers weather the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in effect between Canada, Mexico and the United States since 1994.

Other targets of the criticism are the over 15 billion dollars a year in subsidies for gas and electricity, because they benefit the bigger consumers.

In Latin America’s second-largest economy, some seven billion dollars a year go into 48 federal programmes focused on production, income generation and employment services.

A similar amount goes towards financing Prospera, a programme to foment social inclusion – formerly known as Oportunidades and praised by international development agencies – and Seguro Popular.

Prospera is a conditional cash transfer programme which offers families cash grants conditional on school attendance and regular health checkups for children, while Seguro Popular extends health insurance to people not covered by other social security services.

According to the latest survey by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), published Jul. 23, 55.3 million people live in poverty in Mexico – three million more than in 2012 – equivalent to 46.2 percent of the population of 121 million.

Of the total number of people in poverty, CONEVAL found that 12 million have incomes of less than a dollar a day, and another 12 million have incomes of less than two dollars a day.

Mexico runs counter to the general trend as one of the few countries in the region that have not been successful in reducing poverty, along with Guatemala and El Salvador, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2014.

“Mexico is one of the few countries which, instead of reducing poverty, saw the progress made in the past decade grind to a halt. The elements that have hindered progress are the not so high economic growth, and the fact that spending does not have a redistributive effect,” the coordinator of the UNDP report in Mexico, Rodolfo de la Torre, told IPS.

Beneficiaries of one of the subsidies for farmers receive the assistance in a rural town in Mexico, as part of the Prospera social programme aimed at reducing poverty. But despite the billions invested in the war on poverty, the problem has grown in this country in the last two years. Credit: Government of Mexico

Beneficiaries of one of the subsidies for farmers receive the assistance in a rural town in Mexico, as part of the Prospera social programme aimed at reducing poverty. But despite the billions invested in the war on poverty, the problem has grown in this country in the last two years. Credit: Government of Mexico

The expert said the momentum behind some of the anti-poverty programmes has let up, “which means they have started to lose their effect on reducing poverty.”

The poverty measurement takes into account a number of factors: coverage of basic services like education, healthcare, social security, housing and food, and family income.

On Jul. 29, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) downgraded its forecast for GDP growth in Mexico this year from 3.0 to 2.4 percent – too low to generate the one million new jobs needed.

With respect to income, the current minimum wage of roughly five dollars a day is one of the lowest in Latin America, according to the Observatory of Wages at the private Ibero-American University in Puebla, in the central Mexican city of that name.

The rise in poverty highlights not only the shortcomings of Prospera, but also of the National Crusade Against Hunger, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto`s flagship programme, which targets people living in extreme poverty and suffering from malnutrition.

The aim of the Crusade, which is concentrated in 400 municipalities and involves 70 federal programmes, is to reach 7.4 million people, 3.7 million of whom live in urban areas and the rest in the countryside.

But Jaime said implementing the strategy “is a very complex task” because of its design and multisectoral structure, and the risk of falling into clientelism. “There are instruments for assisting the poor that have proven themselves to be more effective. The Crusade has not had the desired success,” she said.

Jaime’s think tank México Evalúa, which forms part of the Citizen Action Against Poverty network, has publicly expressed its concern about the initiative ever since it was launched in January 2013, a month after Peña Nieto was sworn in.

For De la Torre, it hasn’t been an outright failure. But, he added, “this is a wakeup call to revise how it functions.”

“The entire burden of poverty reduction cannot fall on one programme,” the UNDP expert said. “Health and education policies also have a role to play. If new resources are not invested, the strategy is not going to bring about a shift in the focus on poverty reduction.”

As of early August, the government had not yet announced the Crusade’s specific targets for this year.

Meanwhile, CONEVAL is to present its medium-term assessment of the strategy in December.

With a grim economic outlook, and the government holding tight to its austerity policies, the experts suggest redesigning the structure of the budget and reviewing the management of social programmes.

“If productivity and wages don’t go up, poverty won’t be reduced via the route of incomes,” said Jaime. “The provision of social services like healthcare, education and housing must be guaranteed, as well as more rational and better designed budgets for anti-poverty programmes and policies.”

In the view of the UNDP, Mexico cannot wait for economic recovery to fight poverty.

“The way spending is channeled towards the neediest must be modified. The funds don’t reach the poorest of the poor; the programmes are not sensitive to regional deficiencies or deficiencies affecting particular groups or individuals,” De la Torre complained.

The UNDP is preparing studies on public spending on children, to identify in which stages of life there are budget gaps, and on the evolution of human development and the labour market’s contribution to that development.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Partnerships Critical to the SDGs, Reducing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/#respond Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:26:19 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141851 Last week, South Korea’s Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated as the new president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As such, he will have a key role in setting the course for implementing the ambitious Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the summit of world leaders in September. […]

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South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

Last week, South Korea’s Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated as the new president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As such, he will have a key role in setting the course for implementing the ambitious Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the summit of world leaders in September.

In his inaugural address, Oh laid out his agenda, saying, “The Council will lead the efforts to build an inclusive and engaging global partnership – one that welcomes the significant contribution that all stakeholders can provide.”"We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.” -- Hahn Choong-hee

He has made the problem of inequality among and within nations his priority and announced that he is convening a special meeting of ECOSOC on this subject early next year.

In an interview with IPS, Oh’s Deputy Permanent Representative Hahn Choong-hee said, “Inequality has in the past been a separate discussion, however, it is now being discussed much more in the context of development.”

Explaining its importance of dealing with both development and inequality in a troubled world, Hahn said, “We cannot achieve a really peaceful and inclusive society without addressing violent extremism. At the same time, without achieving economic growth there are always isolated and marginalised groups which are more prone to violence, which makes it really difficult to counter violent extremism.”

Hahn, a career diplomat who has held senior positions in South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and served in Africa, Europe and America, stressed the importance of global partnership in pursuing the SDGs.

This requires three steps which must be accomplished.

The first is communicating the SDGs, so everybody understands what they stand for and hope to accomplish. However, there should also be conceptual understanding of the underlying issues such as social justice, inequality, and the economic, social, and environmental aspects.

Second, he said, all stakeholders, including civil society, NGOs, youth, media and academia, should participate in the process.

Third, everybody has something to contribute to the SDGs. “Whether it is financing from the private sector or technology and knowledge from academia and universities, everybody can contribute,” Hahn said.

Hahn touched on a range of issues of importance for the post-2015 agenda.

“Throughout the next 12 months we have many different processes to invite global partnerships, in which youth particularly will be extremely engaged. Society is very vocal about youth being a major player in the outcomes of development, especially in the next 15 years, but this is not just an issue to be talked about, but an issue to be acted on,” said Hahn.

He said motivating people for development was key, especially in rural areas. “This is an important engine. We have resources and technology, however, we cannot overcome this poverty without people understanding that we have to work together diligently. We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.”

Hahn also stressed the importance of democracy for development, citing the experience of his own country.

“Democracy means developing democratic institutions and rule of law to ensure that money which individuals earn through hard work will be protected… In (the Republic of) Korea’s development narrative, economic growth was advancing while the democratic process was lagging behind. However, when people have a good revenue and increased salary, they begin to want better protection systems for this income. What democracy means is protection and transparency.”

On how to deal with extremism, he said that education, media, migration and youth are four key areas in tackling the problem.

“Although we are talking about ‘Nobody Left Behind’ in the post-2015 agenda, in reality we need to leave behind the groups perpetuating violent extremism, in order to indicate that their argument is not acceptable to the international society,” Hahn said. “We have to isolate these groups.”

He added: “We have to teach young students about global citizenship. Critical thinking is very important when it comes to handling issues of violent extremism, to teach the youth that violent extremism is not workable with a peaceful and inclusive society.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/#respond Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141766 The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme. The […]

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Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme.

The atmosphere is happy and noisy during the first year visual skills class, where the students are focused on making a short film using their computers. The film opens with the school’s majestic central staircase and goes on to discuss the often traumatic transition from primary to secondary school.

“Kids from many different primary schools come together here,” the teacher of the class, Graciela Fernández Troiano, told IPS. “I put the emphasis on providing them with support using the images and metaphors that art offers, in the transformation they’re going through.”

“When we came to this school, we didn’t know anyone,” said one of the students, Giancarlo Gravang. “With this project we started to get to know each other, to make friends, because we worked in groups.”“What (Conectar Igualdad) tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education.” -- Silvina Gvirtz

The 12- and 13-year-olds in this class took photos of feet and staircases using their laptops or cell phones and digitalised and animated them, thanks to the programme Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality), run by the National Social Security Administration.

Since 2010, 5.1 million laptops – referred to here as notebooks – have been distributed, reaching all of the students and teachers in the country’s secondary and special education schools and government teacher training institutes.

The computers, with Internet connection, are used in all of the courses, both in school and at home.

“You can do your homework better, and do searches for more things,” said Lourdes Alano, a student.

In the “transformational staircases” project, Fernández Troiano introduces the students, for example, to works of art such as Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, or Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s short story Instructions On How to Climb a Staircase.

“Leaving the classroom and using the computer in a different part of the school wasn’t a source of distraction for them, like I thought it would be, but actually helped them concentrate on their work,” Fernández Troiano said. “It broke the routine of sitting at their desks. The inclusion of technology and space made them work harder.”

The programme’s administrators see creative initiatives like Fernández Troiano’s combination of diverse disciplines as a reflection of how universal access to a computer is a powerful educational tool, as IPS found the day we spent at the school in this city 52 km from Buenos Aires.

Silvina Gvirtz, executive director of Conectar Igualdad, explained to IPS that the programme emerged from a decision by President Cristina Fernández, as part of an integral educational policy that in 2006 made secondary education compulsory until the age of 18.

“It emerged as an educational tool that makes it possible to improve the quality of teaching, and as a result, of learning,” she said.

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But the programme goes beyond distributing laptops.

“What it tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education,” said Gvirtz.

“Every adolescent has a computer, no matter where they live or where they come from,” Daniel Feldman, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS. “This also creates changes in the family – in some cases it’s the only computer in the home, giving the entire family access to information and the Internet.

“That in itself has a compensating effect,” he said.

“The gaps lie elsewhere, they aren’t fixed just by distributing computers, but this obviously helps combat inequality,” Feldman added.

That inequality is familiar to Ezequiel Zanabria, who says he is happy now because he has his own computer “with all my things on it,” or Esteban López, who proudly shows his mother how to use the notebook.

According to Feldman, other effects of the programme are the recognition of “a right to and a sentiment of restoration of dignity” which at the same time “generates other mechanisms of integration and social participation.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids in front of the school, sitting in long lines along the sidewalks with their notebooks. It doesn’t matter if they’re studying, playing, chatting – they now have access to all of that, which is a big first change,” he stressed.

To illustrate the different ways the laptops can be used, Gvirtz said: “Instead of the traditional drawings on the blackboard, by using a programme we developed, students see how atoms join together to form molecules…In a dance school, some girls used their notebooks to film themselves while they danced, to analyse the mistakes they made.”

“The computer doesn’t replace the direct experience of a museum, but it indirectly allows access to historical and scientific sources, images, films, not only purely educational but with educational content…all they need is access to the normal channels, in order to have a huge quantity of information at their fingertips,” Feldman said.

Conectar Igualdad has also given a major boost to the national computer industry. Ten computer factories have opened, and in each public tender, more domestically produced parts have been required, as well as more and more advanced technologies, such as greater memory and better video definition, Gvirtz said.

Along with Windows, the notebooks use Huayra, a Linux-based open source operating system developed locally for the programme, which unlike proprietary systems can be modified and improved, she noted.

“When they started saying that every student would have a notebook, nobody believed it – people said that would be the day when cows fly (an expression roughly equivalent to ‘when hell freezes over’),” said a student, María Elena Davel.

But the cow, which today is the Huayra symbol, is now flying and plans to go even higher. The next step is to add a computer programming course in schools.

“This is key because we want to move towards technological sovereignty,” said Gvirtz. “We want to form both producers and intelligent consumers of technology.”

The laptops are distributed to the students under a loan-for-use agreement with the parents. The youngsters can then keep them if they graduate.

One challenge is training the teachers, who must adapt to the new e-learning and digital culture in this country of 42 million people, where there are nearly 12 million students in the educational system.

“It’s like the transition from a blackboard with chalk in the hands of each student, to the school notebook and pen. That was also a change in technology in the classroom, which had to be adapted to,” Feldman pointed out.

“This is here to stay,” he said. “We’re all going to have to adapt and accept that this will bring changes in the way we teach.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: European Federalism and Missed Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:32:41 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141694 In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, argues that serious problems affecting Europe, like the Greek crisis and waves of migration, could have been addressed more quickly and efficiently if the European Union had embraced federalism.

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In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, argues that serious problems affecting Europe, like the Greek crisis and waves of migration, could have been addressed more quickly and efficiently if the European Union had embraced federalism.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“A serious political and social crisis will sweep through the euro countries if they do not decide to strengthen the integration of their economies. The euro zone crisis did not begin with the Greek crisis, but was manifested much earlier, when a monetary union was created without economic and fiscal union in the context of a financial sector drugged on debt and speculation.”

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

These words, which are completely relevant today, were written by a group of federalists, including Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato, Jacques Attali, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and this author, in May 2012.

Those with a federalist vision are not surprised that the crisis in Greece has dragged on for so many years, because they know that a really integrated Europe with a truly central bank would have been able to solve it in a relatively short time and at much lower cost.

In this region of 500 million people, another example of the inability to solve European problems was the recent great challenge of distributing 60,000 refugees among the 28 member countries of the European Union. Leaders spent all night exchanging insults without reaching a solution.

Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration.

It can be stated that European federalism – which would complete Europe’s unity and integration – is now more necessary than ever because it is the appropriate vehicle for overcoming regional crises and starting a new phase of growth, without which Europe will be left behind and subordinated not only to the United States but also to the major emerging powers.“Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration”

Furthermore, its serious and growing social problems – such as poverty, inequality and high unemployment especially among young people – will not be solved.

Within the federalist framework there is, at present, only the euro, while all the other institutions or sectoral policies (like defence, foreign policy, and so on) are lacking.

Excluding such large items of public spending as health care and social security, there are however other government functions which, according to the theory of fiscal federalism (the principle of subsidiarity and common sense), should be allocated to a higher level, that of the European central government.

Among them are, in particular: defence and security, diplomacy and foreign policy (including development and humanitarian aid), border control, large research and development projects, and social and regional redistribution.

Defence and foreign policy are perhaps considered the ultimate bastions of state sovereignty and so are still taboo. However, the progressive loss of influence in international affairs among even the most important European countries is increasingly evident.

To take, for instance, the defence sector: as Nick Witney, former chief executive of the European Defence Agency, has noted: “most European armies are still geared towards all-out warfare on the inner-German border rather than keeping the peace in Chad or supporting security and development in Afghanistan.

“This failure to modernise means that much of the 200 billion euros that Europe spends on defence each year is simply wasted,” and “the EU’s individual Member States, even France and Britain, have lost and will never regain the ability to finance all the necessary new capabilities by themselves.”

It should be noted that precisely because the mission of European military forces has changed so radically, it is nowadays much easier, in principle, to create new armed forces from scratch (personnel, armaments, doctrines and all) instead of persisting in the futile attempt to reconvert existing forces to new missions, while at the same time seeking to improve cooperation between them.

Why should it be possible to create a new currency and a new central bank from scratch, and not a new army?

Common defence spending by the 28 European Union countries amounts to 1.55 percent of European GDP. Hence, a hypothetical E.U. defence budget of one percent of GDP appears relatively modest.

However, it translates into nearly 130 billion euros, which would automatically make the E.U. armed forces an effective military organisation, surpassed only by that of the United States, and with resources three to five times greater than those available to powers like Russia, China or Japan.

It would also mean saving an estimated 60 to 70 billion euros, or more than half a percentage point of European GDP, compared with the present situation.

Transferring certain government functions from national to European level should not give rise to a net increase in public spending in the whole of the European Union, and could well lead to a net decrease because of economies of scale.

Taking the example of defence, for the same outlay a single organisation is certainly more efficient than 28 separate ones. Moreover, as demonstrated by experiences with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Cold War, efforts to coordinate independent military forces always produced disappointing results and parasitic reliance on the wealthier providers of this common good. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

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. 

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