Interpress News Service

SPARKS Plugs Gap in Caribbean Climate Research

10 March 2017 - 7:06pm

Big data is used by scientists in the Caribbean to forecast drought conditions for farmers and other farming interests. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 11 2017 (IPS)

On Nov. 30 last year, a new high-performance ‘Super Computer’ was installed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) during climate change week. Dubbed SPARKS – short for the Scientific Platform for Applied Research and Knowledge Sharing – the computer is already churning out the ‘big data’ Caribbean small island states (SIDS) need to accurately forecast and mitigate the effects of climate change on the region.

Experts are preparing the Caribbean to mitigate the devastating impacts – rising seas, longer dry spells, more extreme rainfall and potentially higher impact tropical cyclones – associated with climate change. The impacts are expected to decimate the economies of the developing states and many small island states, reversing progress and exacerbating poverty. Observers say the signs are already here.The system will help scientists to "better evaluate potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure." --UWI Professor Archibald Gordon

Before SPARKS, regional scientists struggled to produce the kinds of credible data needed for long-term climate projections. Only a few months ago, UWI’s lack of data processing capacity restricted researchers to a single data run at a time, said Jay Campbell, research fellow at the climate research group . Each data run would take up to six months due to the limited storage capacity and lack of redundancy, he said noting: “If anything went wrong, we simply had to start over.”

Immediately, SPARKS answered the need for the collection, analysis, modelling, storage, access and dissemination of climate information in the Caribbean. Over the long term, climate researchers will be able to produce even more accurate and reliable climate projections at higher spatial resolutions to facilitate among other things, the piloting and scaling up of innovative climate resilient initiatives.

So, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces its next global assessment report in 2018, there will be much more information from the Caribbean, making SPARKS a critical tool in the region’s fight against climate change.

Not only has the new computer – described as one of the fastest in the Caribbean – boosted the region’s climate research capabilities by plugging the gaping hole in regional climate research, UWI Mona’s principal Professor Archibald Gordon said, “It should help regional leaders make better decisions in their responses and adaptation strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change”.

The experts underscore the need for “big data” to provide the information they need to improve climate forecasting in the short, medium and long term. Now, they have the capacity and the ability to complete data runs that usually take six months, in just over two days.

The system will help scientists to better “evaluate potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure,” Gordon said.

As the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported in June 2016 as “the 14th consecutive month of record heat for land and oceans; and the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average,” regional scientists have committed to proving information to guide Caribbean governments on the actions they need to lessen the impact of climate change.

The region has consistently sought to build its capacity to provide accurate and consistent climate data. Efforts were ramped up after a September 2013 ‘rapid climate analysis’ in the Eastern Caribbean identified what was described as “a number of climate change vulnerabilities and constraints to effective adaptation”.

The USAID study identified among other things “the lack of accurate and consistent climate data to understand climate changes, predict impacts and plan adaptation measures”. To address the challenges, the WMO and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), with funding from USAID, established the Regional Climate Centre in Barbados.

The launch of the new computer is yet another step in overcoming the constraints. It took place during a meeting of the IPCC at UWI’s regional headquarters at Mona – significant because it signalled to the international grouping that the Caribbean was now ready and able to produce the big data needed for the upcoming 2018 report.

Head of the Caribbean Climate Group Professor Michael Taylor explained in an interview that the credibility and accuracy of climate data require fast computer processing speeds, fast turn-around times as well as the ability to run multiple data sets at higher resolution to produce information that regional decision-makers need.

“Climate research and downscaling methods will no longer be limited to the hardware and software,” he said, trying but failing to contain his excitement.

SPARKS also puts Jamaica and the UWI way ahead of their counterparts in the English-speaking Caribbean and on par with some of the leading institutions in the developed world. This improvement in computing capacity is an asset for attracting more high-level staff and attracting students from outside the region. Crucially, it aids the university’s push to establish itself as a leading research-based institution and a world leader in medicinal marijuana research.

“This opens up the research capability, an area the university has not done in the past. Before now, the processing of big data could only be done with partners overseas,” Professor Taylor said.

Aside from its importance to crunching climate data for the IPCC reports, SPARKS is revolutionising DNA sequencing, medicinal, biological and other data driven research being undertaken at the University. More importantly, UWI researchers agree that a supercomputer is bringing together the agencies at the forefront of the regional climate fight.

What is clear, SPARKS is a “game-changer and a big deal” for climate research at the regional level and for UWI’s research community.

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370 Million Children Eat Healthy Food at School, Every Day

10 March 2017 - 8:36am

Every day around 370 million children around the world are fed at school through school meals programmes. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 10 2017 (IPS)

Every day some 370 million children around the world are fed at school, while learning about healthy food and nutrition through school meals programmes that also help boost attendance, the United Nations reports.

Each programme is different: beans and rice in Madagascar, spicy lentils in the Philippines, vegetable pastries and fruit in Jordan. In some countries it may be a healthy snack, or it could include take-home food such as vitamin A-enriched oil for the whole family, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) informs.

“School meals have proved successful in providing educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children… they boost school attendance, and a full stomach can help students concentrate on their lessons.“

According to FAO, communities, particularly in rural areas, also benefit when family farmers and small and medium enterprises are the main source of healthy food for the schools.

Marking the International School Meals Day on March 9, the UN specialised agency believes that consistent global investments in school meals will lead to a generation of children who develop healthy eating habits and who benefit from a diverse diet.

Governments invest in school meals because they are a powerful tool in efforts to reach Zero Hunger, helping to ensure every child has access to education, health and nutrition. Credit: WFP

The UN body promotes school meals in a range of ways including technical support to governments on sustainable agriculture, food safety and standards, support to family farmers to grow surplus harvests to sell to schools, public procurement regulations, nutritional and food guidelines and nutrition education activities.

This month, FAO jointly presented the Home-Grown School Feeding Resource Framework, together with partners including the World Food Programme (WFP).

The framework supports governments through the process of policy formulation, implementation and evaluation of school meals programmes.

It also brings together the technical expertise of different stakeholders in a programmatic and coherent way to be easily accessed by countries requesting technical assistance.

Purchase from Africa for Africa

In Africa, the Purchase from Africans for Africa (PAA Africa) programme is modelled on Brazil’s achievements in fighting hunger and poverty, and is helping promote local agricultural production and school meals.

During the programme’s second phase, around 16,000 family farmers were able to sell 2,700 tons of food for school meals for around 37,000 students, FAO reports.

The school is an ideal setting for teaching basic skills in food, nutrition and health, says the UN agency. In many communities, schools may be the only place where children acquire these important life skills.

Among many tools, growing and preparing garden food at school can be instrumental. Combined with diversified school meals and nutrition education, it increases children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables, it adds.

This food and nutrition education is an essential element in the prevention and control of diet-related health problems. FAO provides technical assistance for integrating food and nutrition education in the primary school curriculum.

Meals provide an added incentive for parents to send their children to school. Credit: FAO

It also supports schools to ensure that all foods, meals and snacks available at school are nutritionally adequate and appropriate for the school-age child.

The UN specialised body gives two examples of case studies.

Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2009, a school-feeding programme based on the National School Feeding Programme of Brazil was launched in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Through inter-sectoral policy and legal mechanisms, it developed actions for food and nutrition education, and encouraged purchases for the programmes to be made from local farming families.

In 2013, a study conducted in eight of the participating countries, surveying a territory encompassing 18 million students, showed that the programmes not only promote school attendance and bolster the learning process, but also increase the income of the community’s farmers.

Cape Verde

In Cape Verde, the school meals programme was introduced by the UN in 1979, and the government took ownership in 2010.

Since then FAO has worked with the government and other UN agencies to diversify the school meals by linking local farmers to the procurement process to increase the supply of local fruit, vegetables, beans and fish to school canteens.

Around 9000 primary school students benefited from this initiative, as did local farmers and fishers who had an assured market.

The Indigenous ‘People of Wildlife’ Know How to Protect Nature

10 March 2017 - 2:33am

The cultures of indigenous peoples traditionally involve the sound management of wildlife. A Maasai pastoralist holding a pregnant ewe in Narok, Kenya. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 10 2017 (IPS)

In the northern part of Mount Kenya, there is an indigenous community — the Il Lakipiak Maasai (“People of Wildlife”) — which owns and operates the only community-owned rhino sanctuary in the country.

They have managed to alleviate the human-wildlife conflicts that arise in the area due to the intrusion of wild animals searching for water, prey and pasture during drought.

And they achieved this by reducing bush-cutting to ensure more fodder for wildlife on their lands. Through this conservation strategy, indigenous peoples have demonstrated that they can coexist harmoniously with wildlife while supporting their own pastoral lives and cultures.

No wonder, for thousands and thousands of years, the Earth’s original peoples have faced hard challenges, yet they managed to survive and conserve their natural environment.

They still do so in spite of modern humans who have been systematically abusing their rights, stripping their lands, confining them to reserves, and disdain their ancestral cultures and knowledge.

Now, following recent trends, the international scientific and development community has been further recognising the invaluable role of the indigenous peoples when it comes to facing one of the most dangerous challenges of modern times: the extinction of biological diversity.

Active involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities in wildlife conservation is key to maintaining biodiversity. An indigenous tarsier holding onto a tree branch in Bilar, Philippines. Credit: FAO

For instance, the United Nations says that actively involving indigenous peoples and local communities in wildlife conservation is key to maintaining biodiversity and ensuring sustainable rural livelihoods.

The urgent challenges that the world faces in maintaining biodiversity worldwide require that indigenous peoples are empowered to act at the national level with assistance from the international community, on March 3 said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the occasion of World Wildlife Day.

“The cultures of indigenous peoples and local communities involve the stewardship of wildlife. They simply cannot imagine their life divorced from nature and their interest in the sustainable use of resources is strong,” said Eva Müller, Director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division.

Empowerment of these groups combined with their knowledge and long-term planning skills is essential to ensure the survival of future generations – of both humans and wildlife, Müller added.

The relationship between humans and wildlife is highlighted in a new edition of FAO’s quarterly forestry publication Unasylva, which is jointly produced by the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management, comprising 14 international organisations.

It cites several case studies from various countries to illustrate how indigenous peoples can optimize the benefits for their livelihoods while also safeguarding wildlife, provided they are given the rights to make their own decisions in the territories they inhabit.

Human-Wildlife Conflicts

Human-wildlife conflicts have become more frequent and severe particularly in Africa, due to increasing competition for land in previously wild and uninhabited areas, Unasylva noted.

Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

“This is often the result of human population growth, increasing demand for natural resources, and growing pressure for access to land, such as expansion of transport routes, agriculture and industries. More specifically, the publication stresses that in central and southern Africa, wildlife and people will continue to share landscapes and resources with conflicts likely to worsen unless actions are taken.”

FAO, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and other partners have developed the first Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) toolbox, which has helped a local community in Gabon’s Cristal Mount National Park.

It explains that local farmers in this area were particularly frustrated by the fact that animals such as cane rats, roan antelopes, bush pigs and elephants were destroying their entire crops, and thus threatening their livelihoods. At the same time, laws prohibited these farmers from taking action by hunting the protected animals either for meat or to protect their crops.

Anyway, when it comes to underlining the essential role of indigenous people in protecting Nature, FAO is no exception.

In fact, other major conservations organisations, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), notes that “indigenous and traditional peoples have often been unfairly affected by conservation policies and practices, which have failed to fully understand the rights and roles of indigenous peoples in the management, use and conservation of biodiversity.”

In line with numerous international instruments, several IUCN resolutions emphasise indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories, and natural resources on which they have traditionally subsisted.

These resolutions stress the need to enhance participation of indigenous peoples in all conservation initiatives and policy developments that affect them. Furthermore, they recognise that indigenous peoples possess a unique body of knowledge relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

Another leading environmental organisation fully agrees.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) recognises the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ participation as well as the valuable inputs that these holders of traditional knowledge – gained through trans-generational experiences, observations and transmission – can contribute to sustainable ecosystem management and development.

“Their close relationship and dependency on functioning ecosystems have made many Indigenous Peoples extremely vulnerable to changes and damages in the environment. Logging, mining activities, pollution and climate change all pose increasing threats to indigenous livelihoods and their survival.”

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Ecco Subcontractor in Breach of the Law

9 March 2017 - 10:54am

Credit: Dietrich Weinbrenner

By Linda Flood
Mar 9 2017 (IPS/Arbetet Global)

Low wages, precarious employment, and lots of overtime. A recent report from the EU project ”Change Your Shoes” show that Indonesian subcontractors for several European footwear companies, including Ecco and Deichmann, are not in compliance with the law.

Employees within the Indonesian footwear industry have difficulties in organizing themselves in trade unions in order to demand their rights concerning wage levels and work hours. This is due to the precarious nature of employment with temporary hiring and contracts without standard protections.

In 2015 Indonesia was the fourth largest producer of shoes in the world after China, India and Vietnam. Around one billion pairs of shoes are produced annually in Indonesia, which is 5% of the total global production.

The Change your Shoes campaign is a partnership between 18 European and Asian NGOs. Their recent report No Excuses for Homework is based on interviews with 117 laborers at four factories, and 37 homeworkers.

In 2015 Indonesia was the fourth largest producer of shoes in the world after China, India and Vietnam. Around one billion pairs of shoes are produced annually in Indonesia, which is 5% of the total global production.
Of the four factories, three are contractors and one is a subcontractor to the European footwear industry. The situation is worst at the subcontractor for the Danish Ecco, factory PT Prima Dinamaka Sentosa. But the German chain Deichmann is also mentioned repeatedly in the report.

– These two companies state that they have good supervision of their supply chain. But when you dig below the surface into these chains, that supervision fails, says Charlie Aronsson, project manager and assistant head of administation at Fairaction, one of the networked partners of the Change your Shoes campaign.

In the interviews with factory workers, employment conditions were described. At Ecco’s subcontractor it was expected that each laborer works three to four hours overtime every day.

Søren Kragh Pedersen, Head of External Communication at Ecco, says the company is surprised to see what is stated in the report about the working conditions at the factory PT Prima Dinamika Sentosa.

”The conditions described at this factory does not correspond with what Ecco auditors found when checking the conditions at the factory in 2015 for the about 50 persons, who work with the production of some minor shoe components”, Mr Pedersen writes in an email to Arbetet Global.

Ecco emphasize it runs its production and business in general in accordance with its Code of Conduct.
”In relation to PT Prima Dinamika Sentosa, Ecco has only had access to the part of the factory where a small group of workers were producing components for Ecco, and is thus not familiar with the details in relation to the employment facts related to the rest of the about 2000 persons working in this factory.”

Mr Pedersen also adds: 
”Ecco has for some time phased out the cooperation with PT Prima Dinamika Sentosa and from the end of this month the cooperation ends, so Ecco is no longer fully up to date on facts related to this factory.”

At one of Deichmann’s subcontractors, labor contracts were limited to six months of employment at which time the laborer would have to re-apply for the job, despite the fact that temporary contracts are only permitted for short time periods according to Indonesian law. Employees at three factories also claim that the wages they earn do not even cover their costs for basic needs.

– There is a continuing problem with these companies’ sustainability work as they still do not seek out where the risks are greatest but rather choose to only look at the nearest link in the supply chain. It is an outdated method. You need to make a proper analysis of risks to see where the problems are most prevalent, says Charlie Aronsson at Fairaction.

In a statement to Arbetet Global, Deichmann, who have over 20 stores in Sweden, state that they have responded to allegations by reviewing all terms of contract for the laborers at subcontractor PT Mekar Abadi Sentosa.

”It’s fixed-term contracts are now in line with the pertinent statutes. And it has also much reduced it’s staff’s overtime.”

Deichmann add that they have made their own visits at the factory on several occasions, sometimes unannounced.

”We always seek continuous improvement in cooperation with our suppliers. As far as we can tell, this benefits the entire industry’s standards in the respective country of origin. Our work is based upon our Code of Conduct, which, in turn, is based upon the ILO’s conditions of work and employment.”

Charlie Aronsson points to the much lower degree of transparency in the global footwear industry compared to that of other sections of the fashion industry, and also that it is difficult to place all ethical responsibilities on consumer behavior

He does though suggest shoppers to ask ‘stupid’ questions to employees in the footwear industry as well as shoe store staff.

– Without consumer pressure, unfortunately, nothing will happen. There are though companies that are more transparent, and can show where their shoes are made. For example, Eurosko are the only Scandinavian chain that have made their list of suppliers available on their homepage. This is something we are encouraging more chains to do.

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

Against All Odds They Fight

9 March 2017 - 9:06am

Women hold lit candles at midnight to mark International Women's Day last year. Amrai Pari, a campaign against domestic violence, in association with Dhaka University, organised the event with the slogan Andhar Bhangar Sapath (pledge to get rid of darkness).

By Shaheen Anam
Mar 9 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

On this International Women’s Day, I want to remember Nasima, Dolly, Shyamoli and all those women who did not allow violence and discrimination to break them, but rather gave them strength to stand up and fight back. In the course of our work we come across many such brave women, who, in spite of suffering the most horrific forms of violence such as rape, gang rape, acid attacks, stalking, sexual harassment etc. continue to persevere and turn their lives around. My article today is a tribute to them and all the women in Bangladesh who struggle everyday of their lives to make this world a better place for themselves and their families.

Below is such a story.

Shyamoli from Tangail faced physical and mental torture from her spouse and in-laws just after her marriage in 2001. Torture on her increased after she gave birth to a girl child, till one day she was beaten severely and thrown out of the house. She returned to her father’s home penniless and with a child to take care of. At one point, she decided to stand up against violence and torture against women. She gradually became a strong voice on behalf of victims of violence and got involved in preventing child marriage, dowry, domestic violence etc. She also started to participate in local shalish to ensure justice for women and over time began to be considered as a community leader. Shyamoli decided to become economically self sufficient and started a small yarn/thread business and set up a weaving machine. Gradually, her business grew and she now employs ten people, earns Tk. 16,000-18,000 a month with a bank savings of Tk. 120, 000. She sends her little girl to school and looks forward to a better life for her child.

In Bangladesh, the picture of violence and discrimination against women is grim. Women continue to face discrimination and violence in their private and public lives. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics study in 2015 reported that 72 percent women experience some form of violence while 49.6 percent face physical violence by their spouse or close relatives. Fifty-two percent (UNICEF) girls are married before the age of 17 or 18. As per report of Ain O Salish, a total of 671 girls and women were raped and 191 were murdered by their husband or relatives from January 20 till November 2016.

However, this does not tell the entire story about the lives of women in Bangladesh. Today, more than ever before women are moving ahead in careers that was not thought possible even 20 years ago. There are now over 8,000 women in the police force and women are flying fighter jets besides going on Peace Missions alongside their male colleagues. Two women successfully climbed the Himalayan peaks and our girls are making a mark in sports and other forms of athletics. Labour force participation has steadily increased and besides the four million in the garment sector, other opportunities have opened up such as the service industry, agricultural sector etc. These women have not allowed patriarchal norms and beliefs to stifle their ambitions to lead productive and independent lives. There are others who, in spite of suffering violence and abuse, have been able to turn their lives around.

The question is why have discrimination and violence against women not gone down in spite of two powerful women being head of government for the last 25 years? How come the mass population has no problem accepting the leadership of women in public offices, yet, are so reluctant to share power or to accept equal relationship with their female counterparts, be it spouse, colleague or friend? The answer lies in the fact that essentially the mindset and attitude of society has not changed. The sad truth is women continue to be perceived as weak, dependent and unreliable. They are still shackled to customs, traditions and norms that dictate what women can or cannot do. Although educated middle class women have attained a measure of economic and social empowerment, yet many succumb to tradition and custom when choosing a career or life partner.

For women to be truly empowered and achieve equality in private and public life, certain conditions have to be met simultaneously. Most important is of course political commitment. Given the policies and laws enacted during the present regime one can say that there is indeed political commitment at the top level. However, the institutions responsible to push the agenda of equality forward do not function with accountability, transparency and sincerity. Law enforcers succumb to pressure from powerful people and allow perpetrators to go free. The rape and murder of Tonu, a college student in Comilla is one such example. Women continue to face obstacles when seeking justice. From local shalish to all the way up, the system is mired in corruption and not women friendly causing humiliation and misery to women and their families when they go to exercise their fundamental right of seeking justice.

Lack of safety and security in the lives of women creates obstacles to the mobility of women forcing them to stay away from public participation, work and even education after a certain age. It poses a threat to the achievements of the SDG goals which targets achieving full gender parity in all social indicators by the year 2030. Lack of safety is not confined to public places, but also exists at home with prevalence of domestic violence being high, as per the BBS report of 2015.

The most important factor is the attitude of society and families towards women. The perception about women needs to undergo a change, from the present negative to a positive one. Women should be recognised and valued for their contribution, no matter what they do. Society and families have to understand that women make crucial contribution as home-makers through their productive and reproductive work or as workers in the fields, factories and offices. Their contribution should be evaluated, recognised and honoured. Violence and discrimination are symptoms, the real issue is respect, dignity and status. Unless women are accorded equal status, discrimination and violence against them will not be reduced.

Finally, the theme for International Women’s Day this year is “economic empowerment of women in the changing world of work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.” Indeed, it is time to recognise that the world of work for women has changed. Planet 50-50 by 2030 will only be possible when the world is willing to recognise and value women’s work in all its dimension, both paid and unpaid. The campaign call is “Be bold for Change”, calling to help forge a better working world for women, a more inclusive gender equal world.

The writer is Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Women and the World of Work

9 March 2017 - 8:50am

By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
Mar 9 2017 (Manila Times)

Today is International Women’s Day, a collective day of global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, but also a call to do much more to achieve parity.

Since the United Nations adopted March 8 as the annual day for women in 1975, it has chosen a theme for each year’s celebration. This year it is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” — weird bureaucratic shorthand for a call to transform the world of work where structural barriers continue to hinder women, and to accelerate moves to achieve the goal of gender equality by 2030.

Where do women stand today in the world of work? Apart from well-worn feminist concerns such as the wage gap, labor force participation, paid parental leave and violence against women, matters of social justice involving such issues as migrant rights, unpaid work and child protection are now considered as going hand in hand with women’s rights.

Getting a lot of attention in academe and development circles is the issue of unpaid work. Women bear a disproportionate burden–more than double the work of men–of unpaid work around the world–cooking, cleaning, taking care of children and the elderly and farm work. Women’s unpaid work fills in for lack of expenditures in public services and infrastructure. And yet, the value of unpaid work is not recognized in countries’ national accounts. It is thougt that unpaid care and domestic work make up of from 10 to 39 percent of GDP.More than this, the lack of social recognition of this valuable contribution of women leads to discrimination and low statusof women.

Where do Filipino women stand in relation to gender equality in the world of work?

Filipino women enjoy greater equality than those in other parts of Southeast Asia, ranking seventh in the world in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, as measured in terms of gender equality, political empowerment, health and survival, economic participation and opportunity. It is ranked 17th worldwide and third in Asia in terms of political empowerment, a category that measures the gap between women and men at the highest level of political decision-making

Education and literacy levels of Filipino women have been higher for women than for men. Literacy rates have been consistently higher for girls than boys since 1989. The Commission on Higher Education reported 57.44 percent of female graduates (269,748) against 42.56 percent male graduates (199,906) in the academic year 2009-2010.

But this Filipino women’s edge in education and literacy over men is not reflected in the area of employment. Women still lag behind men in work force participation—despite a rise in the percentage of professionally licensed women in 2010 to 63.7 percent over men’s 36.3 percent. Men’s employment in 2012 is still significantly higher at 78.4 percent over women’s 50.4 percent.

What explains this astonishing gap between the genders in employment rates? Gender discrimination. According to the International Labor Organization (2013), labor market participation of women is lower than men because of “inadequate employment and decent work opportunities, domestic labor and care constraints and social norms.”

Echoing the unpaid work complaint elsewhere in the world, Filipino women are unable to pursue the same opportunities in the job market as the men because of cultural and social barriers. They are expected to do the bulk of domestic work, including child rearing and domestic chores, keeping them from the job market. Lack of child care facilities in the workplace hinders their opportunity to pursue higher-paying jobs.

Other factors have made it impossible for many Filipino women to combine family and work. These include high maternal and neonatal mortality rates and cultural and economic pressures that compel educated women to stay home and care for the family. Hence, women are condemned to spend more time in “unpaid work” like domestic tasks, stopping them from contracting paid employment. .

In 2011, 31 percent of working-age Filipino women were not in the labor force because of family duties, ILO said. Only three percent of men experienced the same.

In 2012, the Philippine Congress passed the RH Law that would have empowered women, allowing them control of their reproductive cycles so they could pursue an education, get better jobs and handle both family and work. The RH law’s implementation was delayed for two years because of court actions. In 2015, the Supreme Court, on a petition of anti-RH advocates, issued a TRO stopping the Department of Health from distributing a contraceptive implant that would prevent pregnancy for up to three years, on the mistaken notion that it would cause abortions. It also stopped the Food and Drug Administration from processing all pending applications for reproductive products and supplies. Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said this would mean more maternal deaths, teenage pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies. There is now a campaign to get the High Court to lift the TRO that is crippling the full implementation of a law that only aims to empower women and set them free.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

The Economic Impact of Gender Based Violence

9 March 2017 - 8:42am

By Ambassadors for change
Mar 9 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

No country can afford gender-based violence. In Bangladesh, the costs of gender-based violence are estimated at 2.1 percent of the country’s GDP. Each day, violence stops a girl from going to school and prevents a woman from taking a job, compromising their future and the economic and social development of their communities. Survivors are left to deal with physical injuries and emotional scars, while social and legal services struggle to respond. Can Bangladesh continue its much-heralded progress toward middle-income status if its economy is robbed of the invaluable resource of half its population?

Achieving gender equality is a top priority for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in improving the lives of women and girls. Primary and secondary schools enrol as many girls as boys. Maternal and infant mortality have declined dramatically, and women form the backbone of the country’s economic development. The readymade garment industry, Bangladesh’s largest export sector, employs four million Bangladeshis, the majority of whom are women. The percentage of females in the sector is waning, however, and as this industry undertakes structural transformations, the role and place of women in the Bangladesh economy must become a priority for policies and programmes. The creation and expansion of microfinance that prioritises women entrepreneurs has increased female participation in economic activities and is among Bangladesh’s most significant contributions to increased global prosperity.

Gender-based violence undermines this progress. More than 80 percent of currently-married Bangladeshi women are abused at least once during their lifetime, either by suffering physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse, or controlling behaviour. Approximately two-thirds of married women report having experienced violence by a spouse within the past year. Bangladesh’s high rate of child, early, and forced marriage puts millions of girls at increased risk for physical and sexual violence. Few victims report these incidents because they do not know their rights under Bangladeshi law or fear reprisal, stigma, or an unhelpful response from law enforcement. Fear of violence in the workplace or the street restricts women’s mobility and limits their opportunities to earn an income. Working women who experience violence at home lose income due to days off and may face costs to access services. Eliminating gender based violence promotes Bangladesh’s economic progress.

Ending this is a simple matter of right and wrong; ensuring girls and women can live without fear of violence is a fundamental step in the pursuit of non-violence, not only for girls and women, but for boys and men as well. Stopping the cycle of violence requires raising awareness and engagement at all levels of society. Change can start with local initiatives.

One example is the SHOKHI project – financed by the Netherlands Embassy and implemented by a consortium of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh Women’s Health Coalition, Marie Stopes Bangladesh, and WE CAN Bangladesh – that trains women living in 15 Dhaka slums on ways to earn money for their families, linking them to potential employers through job fairs and referrals. Australia and the United Kingdom are supporting the World Food Programme to develop livelihoods for vulnerable women in Cox’s Bazar district, where women’s self-help groups are starting bank accounts with savings contributed by each participant and individual women can buy start-up assets and receive entrepreneurial training.

Changing the mindset and putting in place the economic fundamentals and necessary institutions to accelerate growth and reduce poverty, leaving no one behind, will be a key part of the formula to achieve middle income status. Improving the social status and rights of women and girls is a crucial part of this transformation. Each of us can take simple steps to accelerate this transformation by refusing to tolerate or excuse gender-based violence and by offering help to those experiencing abuse. We, the Ambassadors for Change, representing the governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Sri Lanka, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as UN Women, the United Nations Population Fund, the United States Agency for International Development and the World Food Program, call upon each of you to stand with us, our Bangladeshi sisters and male allies to end gender-based violence once and for all!

The writers are High Commissioner of Australia to Bangladesh; Ambassador of Brazil to Bangladesh; High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam to Bangladesh; High Commissioner of Canada to Bangladesh; Ambassador of France to Bangladesh; High Commissioner of Malaysia to Bangladesh; Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Bangladesh; Ambassador of Norway to Bangladesh; High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Bangladesh; Ambassador of Sweden to Bangladesh; High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Bangladesh; Ambassador of the United States to Bangladesh; USAID Bangladesh Mission Director; Country Representative, UN Women; Acting Country Representative, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and Country Director, World Food Program (WFP).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

At 60, Ghana Looks to a Future Beyond Aid

8 March 2017 - 9:00pm

A graffiti artist in Accra creates an image of the leader of Ghana’s struggle for independence, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

By Kwaku Botwe
ACCRA, Mar 9 2017 (IPS)

Ghana turned 60 years old this week. The West African country gained independence from Britain on Mar. 6, 1957, and remains a study in contradictions.

At 60, Ghana is viewed by many as a beacon of democracy and stability. But its current growth rate is just 3.6 percent — the lowest in 20 years — and its tax revenue to GDP ratio is 18 percent, which is one of the lowest among middle income economies.

At 60, it has a debt to GDP ratio of over 73 percent, one of the highest in the sub-region; the country is bedeviled with an erratic power supply, which has caused many businesses to collapse; and its informal sector is still not formalized enough to be able to widen the tax net.

At 60, Ghana still has schoolchildren who study under trees. 

Some of these economic indicators have sparked a national debate about whether it was prudent for the country to set aside 4.3 million dollars to celebrate the day. Many are of the view that such an amount could be better spent on projects that would bring some economic dividend than, as they describe it, to waste it on pomp and pageantry, parade and fanfare.

These criticisms may have informed President Nana Akufo-Addo when he announced that the budget for the commemoration would not be borne by the taxpayer but by corporate Ghana. The chairman of the 30-member committee planning the anniversary was quick to add that committee members would be doing their work on voluntary basis.

But there are some who take all this with a pinch of salt, perhaps taking a cue from what many perceive to be misappropriation of funds and plain corruption during the organization of the event ten years ago (the Ghana at 50 commemoration committee spent over 60 million dollars).

The head of the Centre for Economic Governance and Political Affairs at the policy think tank Imani-Ghana wants government to make public the names of all companies who committed and how much they committed, to ensure accountability and transparency. Patrick Stephenson believes this is “the only way we can ensure that a corporate body is not getting some undue advantage in the award of contracts just because of their affiliation to this event”.

The independence event is always commemorated with marching parades performed by security personnel, workers unions, traders and school children among others. The event, which typically starts with the lighting of a flame, also sees the president inspecting a guard mounted in his honour.

Stephenson wants organisers to think outside the box and use innovative means to project and develop certain aspects of the country’s economy and culture. “For instance, cocoa, one of our biggest cash crops, could be the year-long theme of one of the commemorations in which we will look at the history, the challenges, the current situation and set targets be achieved as to how to improve on its production,” he said.

It is a view shared by communications academic Dr Ete Skanku. He writes: “The parades are exciting but you don’t need to stand and take a salute. Spare the kids the unnecessary dehydration. Engage them in another way. They can be out there promoting a major nationals initiative practically or give a meaning/breathing life to a national project.”

The day is observed as a national holiday but most people within the informal sector, especially traders, couldn’t afford to stay at home. At the central business district in the capital, Accra traders were busily going about their business. But the traders believe that the day is worth celebrating as the budget statement given by the finance minister some four days ago seems to give some hope.

The Government has already abolished nine taxes, including a duty on importation of spare parts and the excise duty on petroleum, saying these are nuisance taxes that have “low revenue yielding potential and at the same time impose significant burden on the private sector and on the average Ghanaian”.

“These measures introduced by the government will help businesses a lot and the one-district-one-factory policy by the new administration, if implemented, will enable some of us to go back home for jobs because in Accra here we use a good part of our incomes on rent. If I were in my hometown I wouldn’t have to pay rent. I can use that rent money for something else,” says Francis Agyei, a 32-year-old second-hand clothing seller at Accra.

But a lecturer at the economics department of the University of Ghana, Owusu Adu Sarkodie, says Francis’s hopes and aspirations can only be achieved if managers of the economy and resources do things differently. He believes politicians should increase the revenue tax net to cover majority of people and move away from the borrowing mindset.

“We don’t have to keep borrowing for borrowing sake. Even if we have to borrow we need to use the money prudently. If you look at the public debt right now, the greater part of it was for consumption. For example, last year we borrowed 17 billion cedis, we only invested 7 billion, where did the rest go? Consumption,” he added.

If words were action then these words uttered by the President Nana Akufo-Addo in his maiden State of Nation address to parliament some two weeks ago should offer some hope to Ghanaians:

“We will put in place policies that will deliver sustainable growth and cut out corruption. We will set upon the path to build a Ghana that is not dependent on charity; a Ghana that is able to look after its people through intelligent management of the resources with which it has been endowed.

“This Ghana will be defined by integrity, sovereignty, a common ethos, discipline, and shared values. It is one where we aim to be masters of our own destiny, where we mobilise our own resources for the future, breaking the shackles of the “Guggisberg” colonial economy and a mind-set of dependency, bailouts and extraction.

“It is an economy where we look past commodities to position ourselves in a global marketplace. It is a country where we focus on trade, not aid, a hand-up, not a hand-out. It is a country with a strong private sector.

It is a Ghana beyond aid.”

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Bolivia Passes Controversial New Bill Expanding Legal Coca Production

8 March 2017 - 8:23pm

Coca leaf growers from the traditional region of Yungas, in northwest Bolivia, surround the legislature in the city of La Paz, demanding an expansion of the legal cultivation area by the new law. Credit: Franz Chávez.

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Mar 9 2017 (IPS)

A new bill in Bolivia, which will allow the amount of land allocated to producing coca to be increased from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares, modifying a nearly three-decade coca production policy, has led to warnings from independent voices and the opposition that the measure could fuel drug trafficking.

Since 1988, the amount of land authorised for growing coca has been 12,000 hectares, according to Law 1,008 of the Regulation of Coca and Controlled Substances, which is line with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

This United Nations Convention pointed the way to a phasing-out of the traditional practice among indigenous peoples in the Andean region of chewing coca leaves, which was encouraged during the Spanish colonial period, when the native population depended heavily on coca leaves for energy as they were forced to extract minerals from deep mine pits.

But the traditional use of coca leaves instead grew in Bolivia. According to the president of the lower house of Congress, Gabriela Montaño, some 3.3 million of the country’s 11 million people currently use coca in traditional fashion.

Citing these figures, lawmakers passed the new General Law on Coca on Feb. 24. The bill is now awaiting President Evo Morales’ signature.“This law is making available to the drug trafficking trade more than 11,000 metric tons of coca leaves per year, the average yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to producers.” – Public letter signed by local intellectuals.

Morales originally rose to prominence as the leader of the seven unions of coca leaf growers in the central region of Chapare, in the department of Cochabamba, fighting against several conservative governments that wanted to eradicate coca cultivation, in accordance with Law 1,008 and the U.N. Convention.

The law had enabled the anti-drug forces, financed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to wage an all-out war against coca cultivation. The struggle against the law catapulted Morales as a popular figure and later as a politician and the country’s first indigenous president, in January 2006.

Montaño estimates that annual production amounts to 30,900 metric tons, 24,785 of which are used for medicinal purposes, in infusions or rituals, she said.

The remaining 6,115 tons are processed into products, or used for research and export, she said.

Assessing compliance with the 1961 Convention, medical doctor and researcher Franklin Alcaraz told IPS that in South America, only Ecuador has managed to eradicate the practice of chewing coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, some fifty intellectuals signed a public letter titled: “Public Rejection of the General Law on Coca”, which stated that “this law is making available to the drug trafficking trade more than 11,000 metric tons of coca leaves per year, the average yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to producers.”

Bolivia was one of the 73 signatory countries to the 1961 Convention where clause “e” of article 49 declared that the practice of chewing coca leaves would be banned within 25 years of the (1964) implementation of the accord.

In January 2013, Bolivia recovered the right to practice traditional coca chewing, when it won a special exemption to the 1961 Convention. Its request was only voted against by 15 of the 183 members of the U.N., including Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Wives of coca leaf farmers from Yungas during a vigil at the gates of the La Paz police station, where dozens of leaders were taken, accused of inciting disturbance during the demonstrations held to demand an expansion of the legal cultivation area in their region in northwest Bolivia. Credit: Franz Chávez.

In a January 2014 communique, the representative of the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonino De Leo, stated that the exemption “only applies to the national territory.”

The new bill repeals the first 31 articles of the 1988 law and legalises 22,000 hectares for cultivation – 10,000 more than before.

In practice, the new legal growing area is just slightly larger than the 20,200 hectares of coca which UNODC counted in 2015, according to its July 2016 report on the country.

President Morales has defended the increase in the legal cultivation area and reiterated his interest in carrying out an old project for the industrialisation of coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, Morales expressed his support for the new bill and accused conservative governments of supporting the demonisation and criminalisation of coca leaf chewing at an international level.

Montaño said that in 2006, when Morales first took office, 17,000 hectares of coca were grown in the Chapare region. Ten years later, UNODC registered only 6,000 hectares devoted to coca production.

She said that under Morales, the reduction of coca crops has been negotiated and without violence, in contrast to the repression by conservative governments that generated “blood and mourning”.

Before Congress passed the law, coca producers from the semitropical region of Yungas, in the department of La Paz, held violent protests in the capital.

Between Feb. 17 and Feb. 23, hundreds of demonstrators surrounded Murillo square in La Paz, where the main buildings of the executive and legislative branches are located, demanding 300 additional hectares, on top of the 14,000 presently dedicated to coca in Yungas.

There are an estimated 33,000 coca farmers in Yungas, and 45,000 in Chapare.

In the midst of clashes with the police, destruction of public property and the arrest of at least 143 organisers, talks were held with the government, which ended up giving in to the demands.

The settlement also granted growers in the Chapare region an additional 1,700 hectares, on top of the 6,000 currently registered and monitored by UNODC.

Political analyst Julio Aliaga told IPS that traditional use of coca leaves only requires 6,000 hectares, rather than the 22,000 hectares that the government of the leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is about to legalise.

This figure of 6,000 hectares is drawn from a European Union study on demand for coca leaves in Bolivia for infusions, chewing or in rituals. This study was not mentioned by the authorities or MAS legislators.

“Bolivia has a large surplus of coca which goes toward drug trafficking. The cocaine ends up in Africa, Europe and Russia, and the new colossal market of China,” Aliaga said.

Samuel Doria Medina, the leader of the opposition centre-left National Unity (UN), questioned the 80 per cent expansion of the lawful cultivation area and told IPS that the measure is “a clear sign of an interest in increasing the production of narcotic drugs.“

“The new policy will be indefensible before multilateral drug control agencies,“ since the UNODC certified that “94 per cent of the coca production from Chapare goes toward the production of cocaine,” he said.

In his opinion, the new law provides an incentive for the drug trafficking mafias to sell drugs in Bolivia, “with the well-known violence that this business entails.”

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Hanif Hassan Al Qassim calls for bold laws, regulations and polices for empowerment of women

8 March 2017 - 5:02pm

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Mar 8 2017 (Geneva Centre)

“Our job is to provide an environment that unlocks women’s potential – one that protects their dignity and femininity, helps them create the necessary balance in their lives, and values their talents and potential. Given this environment, I am confident that women will perform nothing short of miracles.”

In every layer of humanity, women have made significant contributions to the development of our societies whether in politics, law or science.

Despite this, women worldwide continue to face widespread discrimination, marginalization and economic disparity hindering their ability to unleash their potential. In the very moment of our meeting, there are millions of women who are suffering from bad treatment, losing dignity for traditional wrong habits like, circumcision, honour killing and forced child marriage.

Women, in many countries are locked out from education and degraded from their natural rights. They thrive for economic and social equality dreaming of an equal role with men in the public sphere.

This injustice reality needs to be changed through bold laws, regulations and polices.

Empowerment of women and gender equality are key building blocks to harmonious societies built on the pillars of justice, solidarity and equality.

Promoting gender equality and unlocking the full potential of women can be achieved in several ways.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.5 stipulates the need to facilitate the participation of women in the political life .

This ambition is in line with SDG 5 calling for ending the discrimination of women and eliminating harmful practices against women and girls.

In this context, notable progress is being witnessed in the Arab region to give women a voice as political-decision makers.

Several Arab countries are heading in the right path to achieve SDG 5.5.

According to statistics presented by the World Bank regarding the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments , 31.6% of MPs in Algeria are women followed by 31.3% in Tunisia.

This proportion is higher than those of several developed countries such as France (26.2%), Canada (26%), US (19.4%), Russia (12.7%), India (12%) and Japan (9.5%) .

Iraq (26.5%), Mauritania (25.2%), UAE (22.5%), Morocco (20.5%) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (19.9%) also have a high share of women in parliaments .

From having only 4% of women MPs in the Middle East and North Africa in 1990, this number has now reached 17% in 2016 . However, there is a long way for Arab countries to take in order to bring about a fundamental change to address the injustice of women in legal and economic spheres.

In terms of the realization of economic and social rights, there are also promising trends in the Arab region.

According to the World Bank, the female labour participation rate increased in the MENA region from 18% in 1990 to 22% in 2014 .

The ILO study “The Pride of Working Women” suggests that working women in the MENA region are gradually beginning to enter the workforce in the region which is contributing to an increase in the work force in their countries .

Arab countries have also been following a positive trend in one of the most important fields for achieving gender equality: education.

In the Gulf States, female adult literacy rates increased from 56% in 2000 to 69% in 2010, and women’s high participation in tertiary education is growing .

In all eight Gulf States and also in countries of North Africa, women make up more than 50% of the overall student body .

These encouraging figures show that the Arab region is bold for change and is attempting to eliminate barriers hindering the participation of women in all spheres of society.

I am confident that further progress will be witnessed in the Arab region on the advancement of status of Arab women in the years to come. The Arab world is bold for change, and has reached a historical junction that make this change a matter of to be or not to be an integral part of the global community.

At the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”), we are fully committed to promoting the culture of respecting and protecting human rights in the countries that we have access to. We will keep our gear high in calling for more change with regard to women’s rights.

Women’s Progress Uneven, Facing Backlash – UN Rights Chief

8 March 2017 - 11:20am

Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 8 2017 (IPS)

“The women’s movement has brought about tremendous change but we must also recognise that progress has been slow and extremely uneven and that it also brought its own challenges,” warned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Marking International Women’s Day on March 8, Zeid said that in too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all. “We need to be alert – the advances of the last few decades are fragile and should nowhere be taken for granted.“

The United Nations Human Rights Office on March 7 launched a joint report with the African Union and UN Women detailing the progress and challenges to women’s struggle for human rights in Africa, while the UN rights chief warned that the women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.

Zeid added that it is “extremely troubling” to see recent roll-back of fundamental legislation in many parts of the world.

“Such roll-backs are “underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

While such pushbacks are carried out in the name of tradition, Zeid noted that they are often a response to segments of society calling for change. Among examples he gave, he pointed to recent legislation in Bangladesh, Burundi and the Russian Federation, which weakens women’s rights to fight against child marriage, marital rape and domestic violence, respectively.

He noted also the “fierce resistance” in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to political and civil society efforts to open up access to sexual and reproductive rights.

“With the world’s young population concentrated in developing nations, retrogressive measures denying women and girls access to sexual and reproductive health services will have a devastating effect,” Zeid said, noting more maternal deaths, more unintended pregnancies, fewer girls finishing school and the economic impact of failing to fully include women in the workforce.

“In short, a generation without choices and a collective failure to deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he added, referring to the internationally agreed action plan for eradicating poverty while assisting all people and maintain the health of the planet. “The women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.” – UN Human Rights Chief

Meanwhile, Zeid praised women’s movements in countries such as Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia, where women and men took to the streets to demand change, but warned that “it is time to come together to protect the important gains of the past and maintain a positive momentum.”

Women as Active Agents of Change

In Africa, women continue to be denied full enjoyment of their rights in every country, according to a new report released on Mach 7 entitled Women’s Rights in Africa. Statistics show that some African countries have no legal protection for women against domestic violence, and they are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, and to marry while still children.

According to the report, however, in Africa – as around the globe – when women exercise their rights to access to education, skills, and jobs, there is a surge in prosperity, positive health outcomes, and greater freedom and well-being, not only of women but of the whole society.

“Human rights are not a utopian fairy-tale -they are a recipe for sound institutions, more sustainable development and greater peace,” Zeid wrote in the foreword to the report.

“When all women are empowered to make their own choices and share resources, opportunities and decisions as equal partners, every society in Africa will be transformed.”

Among its recommendations, the report calls on African governments to encourage women’s full and productive employment, to recognize the importance of unpaid care and domestic work, and to ensure women can access and control their own economic and financial resources.

The report stresses that women should not be seen only as victims but, for example, as active agents in formal and informal peace building processes. (Read the Full Report).

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

Another Somalian Famine

8 March 2017 - 8:36am

Somalia famine of 2010-2012, camps outside Mogadishu. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 8 2017 (IPS)

Last month, the United Nations declared another famine threat in Somalia due to yet another drought in the Horn of Africa. Important lessons must be drawn from the Somalia famine of 2010-2012, which probably killed about 258,000 people, half of whom were under-five. This was the greatest tragedy in terms of famine deaths in the 21st century, and in recent decades since the Ethiopian famine of the late 1980s.

A 2013 report, for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), used a variety of sources to estimate the likely death toll. The report – jointly commissioned and funded by FAO and the USAID-funded FEWS Net, and covering the period from October 2010 to April 2012 – was undertaken by independent experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Early warning, but no early action
Both FEWSNET and FSNAU had been warning of the impending tragedy with increasing urgency for some time, producing numerous early warning alerts besides directly briefing agencies and donor governments. Some critics claim that the early warnings may actually have been late, and even under-estimated the scale of the emerging crisis.

Many insist that the lateness of the intervention was responsible for many deaths. About 120,000 people had already died in the months before the UN declared a famine and intervened from mid-2011 after issuing 16 early warnings to indifferent responses. Many observers feel outraged about the international community’s seeming indifference when it comes to African famine deaths.

If the ‘international community’ had responded quickly, early interventions could have been undertaken to minimize the resulting destitution and starvation. But an entire year of early warnings failed to elicit the needed responses. Donor governments did not increase aid, while most major humanitarian agencies did not step up their efforts. The system only began to act after famine was declared, i.e., long after the window of opportunity to avoid disaster had passed.

Politics in the way
The failure to respond was primarily due to politics. The worst affected areas in Somalia were believed to be controlled by as-Shabaab, which was engaged in a war with the Western-supported Somali transitional federal government (TFG). Western donor governments were reticent in case their aid fell into the hands of their adversary.

US laws imply that humanitarian workers in Somalia would have been liable to prosecution and 15 years imprisonment if the aid they were distributing fell into the hands of as-Shabaab. Such legal and other constraints contributed to the significant decline in aid to Somalia, which fell by half between 2008 and 2011, after the US government decision to significantly reduce humanitarian funding in as-Shabaab-controlled areas from 2008.

The WFP Executive Director at the time – Josette Sheeran, a Bush nominee – had a well known history of conflict with Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State. Ertharin Cousin, US Permanent Representative to the UN system in Rome for much of the period involved, went on to succeed Sheeran after Clinton blocked a second term for her. Meanwhile, the head of UNICEF, Tony Lake, had been US National Security Adviser at the time of the infamous 1993 ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia, imprinted in the American collective memory by the Hollywood movie.

By ignoring early warnings, cutting aid and constraining humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Western governments exacerbated the deteriorating situation, making famine more, not less likely. Instead of trying harder, humanitarian organizations presumed it would be politically unfeasible to raise resources. As-Shabaab’s expulsion of the UN’s World Food Programme in 2010 only made things worse, with another 16 UN agencies and international NGOs suffering similar fates in 2011 for allegedly “illicit activities and misconduct”.

Thus, Western donors prioritized their geopolitical priorities over the urgent need to avoid famine. Rob Bailey, a senior research fellow specializing in food security at Chatham House in London, has even asserted that “In Somalia, western donors made famine more, not less likely”.

As-Shabaab also paid little heed to the Somali population under its control. It not only restricted humanitarian access and rejected emergency aid, but also limited the ability of people to move besides taxing food production and distribution.

Both sides did not prioritize the growing need for massive, early, pro-active initiatives to stem the spreading destitution and to prevent famine. Donor governments only changed their stances after famine was declared, as public attention meant that the governments could not be seen to be the problem.

Lessons learnt?
Although donor governments and humanitarian organizations were quick to announce that they had learnt the lessons of the Somali famine, things are now worse in some respects. In recent years, both the US and the EU have imposed strict sanctions on remittances to Somalia, which have cut the meagre resources available to destitute households. As income from such remittances served to mitigate the devastating impact of the last famine, it would be worse this time without them.

Meanwhile, aid and other humanitarian interventions remain highly politicized. While early warning systems are under critical scrutiny, there is nothing to ensure that early warnings lead to early action despite the existence of early warning systems and resources needed to prevent famine.

Gender Disparity at UN: Three Out of 71, Zero out of Nine

8 March 2017 - 3:51am

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations has frequently been accused of vociferously preaching gender empowerment and women’s rights to the outside world — but failing miserably to practice what it preaches in its own political backyard.

The charge is usually made against the 193-member General Assembly, which has elected only three women as presidents – Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

And that’s three out of 71 Presidents, 68 of whom were men.

The 15-member Security Council’s track record is probably worse because it has continued to elect men as UN Secretaries-General, rubber-stamped by the General Assembly, and most recently late last year– despite several outstanding women candidates.

And that’s zero out of nine male UN chiefs (Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, U. Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea and, currently, Antonio Guterres of Portugal).

The two highest ranking political positions at the UN– one of them with the status of a head of state in terms of diplomatic protocol– have long been identified as the intellectual birth right of men.

The General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the United Nations, and the Security Council, the most powerful veto-wielding body in the Organization, have continued to overwhelmingly opt for men over women during the 71-year existence of the world body.

And still, both UN organs continue to relentlessly—and hypocritically– pay lip service to the cause of women’s rights and gender empowerment in the endless debates on life’s inequalities.

On the other hand, the UN Secretariat and 35 of its affiliated agencies worldwide have been labouring, with limited success, to implement a longstanding UN resolution which has called for 50:50 gender parity between men and women – and specifically on senior high-ranking, decision-making jobs.

As the UN commemorated its annual International Women’s Day on March 8, a recently-released 36-page study on the “Status of Women in the UN System” focuses on where the 50:50 gender parity stands – and where it falters.

Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, points out that the study not only profiles the status of women at the UN but also singles out “the challenges to the achievement of the 50:50 culture”

“There is some encouraging progress towards gender parity throughout the UN system, although it is not uniform, and insufficiently rapid. The change we need will not happen without a committed, multi-pronged approach.”

“Equality is not a statistic,” she rightly declares, “It is a mindset” – even as the UN has launched a campaign to achieve 50:50 gender party in all walks of life worldwide by the year 2030.

On the UN’s current payroll are a staggering 94,000 staffers and 78,000 consultants worldwide.

The UN staff is largely divided into two categories: the General Service, which includes mostly the clerical staff and secretaries, and the Professional Service (equivalent to an executive staff in the private sector).

The Professionals move up the ladder as P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4 and P-5 rising to “Director” levels D-1 and D-2 and theoretically vying for the posts of Assistant-Secretary-General (rarely achievable), Under-Secretary-General (very rarely achievable) and Deputy Secretary-General (never).

The three most senior positions in the UN hierarchy — ASGs, USGs, and DSGs– are mostly appointments made by the Secretary-General, primarily caving into political pressure by the big powers at the UN.

As laid down in the UN staff regulations and staff rules, the authority for the selection of staff members at D-2 level and above rests with the Secretary-General, including the retention of staff members beyond the retirement age, should the need arise.

According to the study, only five out of 35 UN “entities” have reached the 50:50 parity and beyond: UN Women (78.9 percent), International Court of Justice (57.1 percent), UNAIDS (50.8 percent), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (50.6 percent) and the UN World Tourism Organisation (50 percent).

Listed on a scale are 17 other UN entities with 40-49 percent parities, including the Secretariat, and 13 UN entities with 40 percent parities.

“As the largest entity in the UN System, the UN Secretariat (in New York) has the potential to greatly impact overall system progress towards 50:50 gender balance. However, the UN Secretariat has a lower representation of women at every level than the overall UN System,” says the study.

“A negative correlation exists between the representation of women and seniority – as grade levels increase, the proportion of women decreases. The sharpest declines occur between the P-2 and P-3, and P-4 and P-5 levels, with drops of 12.2 and 5.9 percentage points, respectively. Such decreases indicate there are blockages in the pipeline hindering the career advancement of women within the UN,” the study notes.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, told IPS: “We may recall that Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly promoted women’s rights; and Ban Ki-moon championed gender equality. Yet, as current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres himself said, the initial target for equal representation of women and men in the UN was in the year 2000.”

While Guterres would have a pivotal role in achieving gender parity, she said, “we cannot rely on him alone”.

The Member States have a key role to pay in nominating women candidates to key UN positions. Civil society has an equally critical role in proposing criteria for selection; or recommending individuals who have the expertise and track record on women’s empowerment, women’s rights and gender equality, she added.

In some of his initial appointments last January, Guterres named several women to senior UN positions, including Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria as his Deputy; Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil as his Chef de Cabinet; Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea as his Transition Team Chief; Melissa Fleming of the United States as his Senior Advisor/Spokesperson; and Michelle Gyles-McDonnough of Jamaica as Senior Advisor.

Ban Ki-moon did break many glass ceilings during his 10 year tenure ending December 2016. In his annual report to the General Assembly last December, he pointedly said: “When I took office, there were no women heading peacekeeping operations in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of UN missions are headed by women. I also appointed the first woman Legal Counsel, the first woman Police Adviser, the first woman Force Commander and more than 100 women at the ASG or USG levels.”

Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, co-founder and Executive Director of International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS that in a world with an increasing number of women in tertiary education and in the workplace, it seems inconceivable that the UN has not or cannot reach parity between women and men in all levels across the system.

“If the policies and rhetoric we hear are correct, then it is not a problem of demand. Is it then a supply problem? Not really, not if we look at the hard numbers: to get parity at the USG level — the SG needs to recruit an additional 67.5 women — for D2s — he needs another 109 women; and for D1s another 848.5 women.”

“These may sound like large numbers but look around the world of civil society, the private sector, and many governments — the women are present, ready and willing,” she pointed out.

But the question is how would the system deal with the very human realities?

In this case, she argued, today’s generation of men in existing posts, with hopes and expectations of moving up the ladder – will have to experience the glass ceiling that generations of women have faced in the past.

If parity is to be a reality, many of today’s male P4s, P5s, D1s, D2s, USGs will be paying the price for the many earlier generations of men who advanced and filled those posts — often regardless of their abilities, said Naraghi-Anderlini, the first Senior Expert on Gender and Inclusion on the UN’s Mediation Standby Team.

Ian Richards, President, Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations described the study as “a comprehensive report” on the status of women in the UN system.

“And we can certainly take heart from the finding that 82.4% of the workforce that completed the Exit Survey indicated that gender did not have an impact on their career.”

However, he said, “We believe much more needs to be done in terms of facilitating the careers of women at the UN. The organization is in the dark ages when it comes to flexible working arrangements, few of its offices provide or wish to provide assistance with childcare, and the promotion system lacks objectivity thereby entrenching unconscious biases and preferences.”

Richards said one area the report doesn’t examine but should, is the 30 percent of the UN workforce that is made up of consultants. He said their fees are negotiated individually with managers, instead of being set by a salary scale, and there has been no study of whether women and men are paid the same for equivalent work.

Finally it’s interesting to note that in the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which sets conditions of service and decides against providing assistance for childcare, only two of its 15 members are women, he pointed out.

Cabrera-Balleza said she was pleased about Guterres’ appointment of women in top level UN positions.

“I am also happy to see that on the call for nomination of candidates for Under Secretary-General positions, the UN Secretariat stated that it would especially welcome nomination of women candidates”.

“However, I am disappointed that the qualifications for those positions do not include track record on gender equality. The call only states “high commitment to the values and guiding principles of the UN and familiarity with the UN system…” Track record on gender equality should be explicit. It should be explicit during recruitment and hiring; and it should be explicit in Terms of Reference for all UN officials. It cannot and should not be assumed,” she declared.

“We should also bear in mind that advancing the status of women and achieving gender equality in the UN system is not just a numbers game. We need to have women and men who represent women’s interests; who fight for women’s rights–not just their own self interest or self advancement. Hence, we need track record; and not just commitment. Anyone can claim commitment to women’s rights and gender equality but only few have track record,” she added.

Naraghi-Anderlini said to be perfectly fair, it would seem the UN needs to up its recruitment of junior men in P1 and P2 positions to ensure parity at the base too. So parity will also benefit a younger generation of men, alongside the multi-generations of women who could fill the more senior posts.

In an ideal world, she said, the Secretary-General would take on this challenge and focus on ensuring that the very best of women and men enter, remain and advance in the system across all levels.

“They must all adhere to the core UN values – of equal human rights, pluralism and peace. But the skills and knowledge required, should be as varied and diverse as the societies in which the UN seeks to be present and effective,” said Naraghi-Anderlini.

“Imagine what a UN that would be? Probably the best place in the world to work in,” she added.

The writer can be contacted at

Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030

7 March 2017 - 4:42pm

A lady mechanic student poses with male classmates during a practical session at the Lodwar Vocational Training Centre in Turkana County, Kenya. With empowerment, more women are making the decision to take up jobs and careers previously believed to be preserves of men. Photo courtesy of UN RCO Kenya.

By Zebib Kavuma
NAIROBI, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

This year as the world commemorates International Women’s Day it is a time for all of us to celebrate and reflect on the progress made on Women’s rights globally. But more importantly, a day to call for an end to gender inequality in all its forms especially in the work spaces. Appropriately themed “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” the commemoration comes against a backdrop of a world that is undergoing major changes with significant implications for women.

Africa has more women in executive committees, CEO, and board roles than the average worldwide. Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb.
On the one hand, we have globalization and the rapid technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring. On the other hand, are the growing informality of labor, the growth of corporate influence, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which have an impact on women’s economic options and their interaction with the world of work. But within this dynamic environment we must do everything possible to provide decent work for all women, ensure that women are treated fairly in law, ensure equal pay for women, teach everyone that any job is a women’s job and organize the women to ask for their rights.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, placing gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Achievement of these goals rests upon unlocking the full potential of women in the world of work.

On this International Women’s Day, UN Women calls upon all actors to Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030. Through the Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 initiative, we envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap through laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. So far, several African countries including Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, South Sudan, South Africa, Mozambique, have committed to ending discrimination against women by 2030 and have announced concrete and measurable actions to kick-start rapid change in their countries.

In addition to governments, Step It Up also works with key stakeholders to commit to Step It Up for gender equality and the empowerment of women. With the support of the partners, the initiative focuses on gender equality and women’s rights issues on two fronts – in their reporting, disrupting stereotypes and biases; and in increasing the number of women in the media, including in leadership and decision-making functions.

By 2030 we want to see a world where women in the workplace receive equal pay for equal work relative to their male counterparts and are not hampered in pursuing their economic option by unpaid care and domestic work.

A woman transporting a stack of reeds in rural Kenya. Women’s unpaid care and domestic work is yet to be recognized as labour in many parts of the developing world. Photo courtesy of UNDP Kenya.

Measures that are key to ensuring women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work must include bridging the gender pay gap, which stands at 24% globally; recognizing women’s unpaid care and domestic work and addressing the disproportionate burden of care work on women; as well as addressing the low representation of women in leadership, entrepreneurship; access to social protection; and ensuring gender-responsive economic policies for job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth.

Additionally, policies must cater for the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy by providing them with job safety and protection from harm. We must also promote women’s access to innovative technologies and practices, decent work and climate-resilient jobs as well as protect them from violence in the work place.

Kenya’s women and youth make a significant economic contribution, mainly in agriculture and informal business sector. Women make up nearly half of all micro and small enterprises. The recent affirmative action procurement legislation for women, youth and persons living with disabilities has created excellent opportunities for women to participate in the public procurement market.

Interestingly, in the private sector, Africa has more women in executive committees, CEO, and board roles than the average worldwide. Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb. Only 5%of women make it to the top as reported by Africa Women Matter McKinsey Report 2016.

Actions including creating programmes to eradicate violence against women and girls, encouraging women’s participation in decision-making, investing in national action plans or policies for gender equality, creating public education campaigns to promote gender equality, and many more are essential. Empowering women and girls is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Everyone has a role to play by making gender equality a lived reality by 2030.



Women and Girls, One Third of World’s Drug Users

7 March 2017 - 2:17pm

Despite eradication and education efforts, drug use, especially heroin, remains rampant in parts of Myanmar. Photo: IRIN. Source: United Nations

By IPS World Desk
ROME/VIENNA, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users yet are only one-fifth of those receiving treatment, a UN-Backed independent expert body warned.

Citing a significant rise over the past year in the number of women dying from drug overdoses globally, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned that women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users.

“Yet [they] are only one-fifth of those receiving treatment, as significant systemic, structural, social, cultural and personal barriers affect women’s ability to access substance abuse treatment.”

Further, they are also more likely to be prescribed narcotics and anti-anxiety medication than men, and are thus more likely to abuse these medications, according to the latest INCB report. For example, Germany and Serbia have reported that fatal overdoses from prescription drugs are more frequent among women.

The UN-backed independent expert body, which monitors governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, has called for the implementation of gender-sensitive drug policies and programmes.

Additionally, countries such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have seen larger increases in overdoses, of all substances, among women than among men, it informs.

These are among the key findings in the 2016 Annual Report that the INCB launched on March 2, stressing that Governments should prioritise providing health care for drug-dependent women, in addition to more funding and coordination to prevent and treat drug abuse among women.

“We want to change perceptions and remind people, particularly policymakers, of the importance of protecting the rights of women who use drugs or who have committed drug-related offences and the rights of their families,” said the organisation’s President, Werner Sipp.

The report also highlights the importance of targeting prevention programmes to specific populations, such as prisoners, pregnant women, people living with HIV/AIDS, and sex workers. It also notes that women prisoners and sex workers are at “particular risk” of drug use.

“Countries are also encouraged to seek alternatives to imprisonment for drug-related offences, such as treatment, rehabilitation and social integration.”

The INCB repeated its longstanding call for countries to abolish the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Among its other observations, it noted with “great concern” recent reports in some countries of the targeting of individuals suspected of involvement in drug-related activity, including drug use, who have been subjected to violent acts of reprisal and murder at the hands of law enforcement personnel and members of the civilian population.

In some instances, those acts have been committed with the express or tacit approval, or even encouragement, of political forces and, in many cases, have gone unpunished, said INCB.

It also emphasised that it condemns such practices, including the extrajudicial targeting of persons suspected of drug use, “in the strongest possible terms,” and denounced them as a “serious violation of human rights […] and an affront to the most basic standards of human dignity.”

In Asia Pacific, 900 Million People Pay Bribes for Public Services

7 March 2017 - 1:47pm

A billboard in Zambia exhorting the public to "Just say no to corruption". Photo: Lars Plougmann. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Around 900 million – or just over one in four – people living in 16 countries in Asia Pacific, including some of its biggest economies, are estimated to have paid a bribe to access public services, with governments failing to stop corruption, according to a new public opinion poll from a major anti-corruption watchdog.

The Berlin-based Transparency International (TI), a global anti-corruption movement working in over 100 countries, spoke to nearly 22,000 people about their recent experiences with corruption for People and Corruption: Asia Pacific, part of the Global Corruption Barometer series.

The results show lawmakers across the region “need to do much more to support whistle-blowers; governments must keep promises to combat corruption.”

In China, nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed said corruption has increased over the last three years, suggesting people do not see the major offensive on corruption is working, TI reports.

Only one in five people surveyed thought the level of corruption had decreased, while half of people polled said their government was doing a bad job fighting corruption.

“Governments must do more to deliver on their anti-corruption commitments. It’s time to stop talking and act. Millions of people are forced to pay bribes for public services and it is the poor who are most vulnerable,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, on March 7.

Thirty-eight per cent of the poorest people surveyed said they paid a bribe, the highest proportion of any income group.

“Without proper law enforcement corruption thrives. Bribery is not a small crime, it takes food off the table, it prevents education, it impedes proper healthcare and ultimately it can kill,” Ugaz said.

Police Top the List

Police top the list of public services most often demanding a bribe, with just under a third of people who had come into contact with a police officer in the last 12 months saying they paid a bribe.

People said that the most important action to stop corruption is speaking out or refusing to pay bribes. But more than one in five said they felt powerless to help fight corruption.

Transparency International recommends that governments integrate anti-corruption targets into all Sustainable Development Goals including hunger, poverty, education, health, gender equality and climate action, and develop mechanisms to reduce corruption risks.

It also recommends that legislatures adopt and enforce comprehensive legislation to protect whistle blowers, based on prevailing international standards, including those developed by Transparency International.

The anti-corruption watchdog also exhorts authorities to prevent and sanction bribe paying/taking to end impunity related to bribery, and that anti-corruption agencies engage with and encourage large numbers of citizens who are willing to refuse paying bribes and report corruption.

The surveys were carried out face-to-face or by telephone between July 2015 and January 2017. They were sampled and weighted to be nationally representative of all adults.

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Global Harvests Robust, Yet 37 Countries Need Food Aid

7 March 2017 - 12:07pm

Young boys head home after fishing for a day in the swamps of Nyal, South Sudan. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Global food supply conditions are robust, but access to food has been dramatically reduced in areas suffering from civil conflicts, while drought conditions are worsening food security across swathes of East Africa, according to the United Nations.

In a new edition of its Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) informs that some 37 countries require external assistance for food, 28 of them in Africa as a result of lingering effects of last year’s El Niño-triggered droughts on harvests in 2016.

Yet, while agricultural production is expected to rebound in southern Africa, protracted fighting and unrest is increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry in other parts of the world, the report adds.

Famine has been formally declared in South Sudan and the food security situation is of grave concern in northern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

“This is an unprecedented situation. Never before have we been faced with four threats of famine in multiple countries simultaneously,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Kostas Stamoulis, head of the Economic and Social Development department.

“It demands swift action which should consist of immediate food assistance but also livelihood support to ensure that such situations are not repeated.”

Millions Facing Famine

The UN specialised body cites several examples.

In South Sudan, 100,000 people were facing famine in Leer and Mayendit Counties, part of former Unity State, while there was an “elevated risk” that similar conditions existed in two nearby counties. Over all, about 4.9 million people across the country were classified as facing crisis, emergency or famine.

That number is projected to increase to 5.5 million, or almost half the country’s population, at the peak of the lean season in July.

In northern Nigeria, 8.1 million people are facing acute food insecurity conditions and require urgent life-saving response and livelihood protection. That comes despite the above-average cereal harvest in 2016 and reflects the disruption caused by conflict as well as the sharp depreciation of the Naira.

Meanwhile in Yemen, FAO reports that 17 million people or two-thirds of the population are estimated to be food insecure, while almost half of them are in need of emergency assistance, with the report noting that “the risk of famine declaration in the country is very high.”

And in Somalia, the combination of conflict, civil insecurity and drought have resulted in more than double the number of people – now estimated at 2.9 million – being severely food insecure from six months ago.

“Drought has curtailed fodder for pastoralists and the third consecutive season of poor rainfall is estimated to have reduced crop production in southern and central regions to 70 per cent below average levels, leaving food stocks depleted.”

Conflicts and civil unrest in Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Myanmar and Syria are also exacerbating food insecurity conditions for millions of people as well affecting nearby countries hosting refugees. In addition, the drought in East Africa in late 2016 has heightened food insecurity in several countries in the sub-region, according to the new report.

Worldwide Trends

Cereal production made quite strong gains in the world overall in 2016, with a record recovery in Central America, and larger cereal crops in Asia, Europe and North America.

Looking ahead, FAO’s first global wheat production forecast for 2017 points to a 1.8 per cent decline from last year’s record level, due mostly to a projected 20 per cent output drop in the United States, where the area sown to winter wheat is the lowest level in over 100 years.

Prospects are favourable for the 2017 maize crop in Brazil and Argentina and the outlook is generally positive for coarse grains throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Prospects for rice are mixed, but it is still too early to make firm predictions for many of the world’s major crops, according to FAO.

Maize harvests in Southern Africa, slashed by El Niño, are forecast to recover this year, with South Africa’s output expected to increase by more than 50 per cent from 2016, with positive trends likely in most nearby countries. However, an outbreak of armyworms, along with localized flooding in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, could limit larger production gains in 2017.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Let Women Speak and Give Them a Hearing

7 March 2017 - 11:31am

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Basic rights always need champions, and that’s truer today than it ought to be as around the world we see an unwelcome pattern of reaction to modern complexities ranging from globalization and automation to austerity and dwindling wages. One alarming example is how the agenda of promoting women’s rights, so far from completion, is being pushed back rather than forward.

Farhana Haque Rahman

IPS has long strived for gender equality and reported from every corner of the world on women’s conditions and their desire for equality on multiple fronts. Expected progress risks reversal, at times due to implicit bias in access to emerging technologies and at times due to outright political reaction.

Things cannot be taken for granted. Protectionism and populism are not going to contribute to the world we all need, one that rises to respond to the threats posed by climate change and to the pledge to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger once and for all. Women’s rights are key to progress on all fronts.

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017, IPS has invited people from all quarters, from policy makers and political and cultural influencers to ordinary people with challenging daily lives, to offer their opinions, news and views on how the women of the world – able as we’ve seen to take to the streets and argue their own case – should navigate a time of such uncertainty.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

Time to Champion Women’s Empowerment: Implementation of SDGs in Bangladesh

7 March 2017 - 2:13am

Credit: PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

The year 2015 was highly significant in relation to global convergence on ways forward towards achieving sustainable development at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Global leaders reached four groundbreaking agreements that year, the first of which was the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the first major agreement crucially important in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Then in July came the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, which has dealt with how finances can be mobilised for global sustainable development. In September, the world leaders adopted the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ with 17 goals, known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

The other momentous development was the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December that year. Not that everyone will agree with the contents of these agreements and certainly there are deficits in each in relation to what needs to be achieved, but these documents provide a strong basis to moving forward.

Of these, the SDG 2030-Agenda essentially integrates the core objectives of the other three agreements along with other relevant issues, and focuses on the inclusion of everyone in the development process, with particular emphasis on gender equality (Goal-5) that men and women must be equally endowed with opportunities and facilities. This is a key Goal that catalyses actions to carve out an appropriate forward movement of society, overcoming gender discriminations and other hurdles.

Despite the fact that women’s empowerment takes the centre stage of sustainable development, they face discrimination in different aspects of their lives, one of which is wage discrimination.

Credit: PKSF

Even in the United States, women working full time in 2015 typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. The same can be found in Bangladesh where women get 21.1 percent less hourly wages than men, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organisation.

Bangladesh has come a long way in empowering women and closing the gender gap. Women are joining and making their mark in all branches of the development and society including education, health services, administration, banks, entrepreneurship, military and law enforcement forces, and politics.

In terms of political empowerment, Bangladesh not only leads the region but also beats many developed countries in the world. The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 published by the World Economic Forum testifies to the significant progress women have achieved in Bangladesh.

The Report that covers 144 countries ranks Bangladesh 72nd with an overall score of 0.698 (1 means parity), well above the average global score. The country leads the South Asian region in all four indicators – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Bangladesh’s closest performer in the region is India, lagging 15 spots behind.

What is notable is the progress made in Bangladesh in reducing gender gap over the past one decade. Ranked 91st among 114 countries, Bangladesh jumped 19 spots ahead in just 10 years, even though 30 more countries were included in the exercise this time.

This noteworthy progress, along with the very significant socio-economic advancement achieved by the country in recent years, has been possible mainly because of a conducive policy environment provided by the government, and the indomitable spirits of the people of this country to move ahead against all odds and achieve changes for the better. It is also to be recognised that facilitating support at the local spaces has been provided by many civil society and non-government entities.

Credit: PKSF

The Constitution of Bangladesh clearly states that “the State Shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity and participation of women in all spheres of national life” and “women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life”. The country also has the National Women Development Policy 2011 and a set of laws to prevent violence and discrimination against women and to ensure empowerment of women, and their equal rights and opportunities.

In conformity with the constitutional dictates as well as the policy and legal obligations and the political will to ensure women’s legitimate progress, the Sheikh Hasina-led government introduced the Gender Budget in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Seven fiscal years later, the Gender Budget now has jumped almost 3.5 times. This amount is allocated directly to promote women’s progress in relation to various issues faced by them. But, the issue of improvement of women’s status also features directly or indirectly in various other programmes.

Despite the advancements women in Bangladesh have made, they still are paid less than men for equal work, as mentioned above, and are facing violence both inside and outside their homes. A 2015 study of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows that 80.2 percent women in Bangladesh suffer domestic violence at some point of their lives.

Girl students account for over 50 percent of the number of students at primary and secondary levels, but their proportion at the tertiary level is now around 40 percent. Though more women are joining the mainstream workforces in the government and corporate sectors, their presence in the top echelons is not yet very encouraging. Harassment of women and girl students in their workplaces and educational institutions respectively, and child marriage, remain major challenges.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), which is a government-established foundation, has been trying to empower women in terms of human capability as well as economic and social opportunities. It currently offers financial and non-financial services to over 10 million households or about 45 million people throughout the country.

An intensive and integrated multidimensional poverty eradication and beyond-poverty sustainable development action programme is being implemented in 150 unions (the lowest administrative unit) across the country, covering around 4.5 million people, half of whom are women.

Previously, women were often used as conduits for borrowing money from microfinance institutions. But, now the PKSF ensures that women play important roles in the management of financial and non-financial services they avail from the PKSF-POs (Partner Organisations of the PKSF, NGOs through which the PKSF implements its action programmes) under strict PKSF supervision and monitoring. These women are thus getting increasingly empowered in their families and in society.

The PKSF also focuses on education of girls and campaigns against and actions within its capacity to reduce child marriage, harassment of girls and women, and violence against women, and also for the recognition of women’s household chores as economic activities.

Since empowerment of women is at the heart of the SDGs, it is of paramount importance that Bangladesh makes bolder moves to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girl children. ‘Be Bold For Change’ thus seems to be an appropriate slogan that has been picked for the International Women’s Day 2017, a day the world observes on March 8th every year.

On this occasion, Bangladesh must renew its pledge to step up efforts to make this country a better place for women, take bolder stances to effectively address the persistant bias, inequality, and violence faced by women, and forge women’s advancement, celebrate their achievements, and champion women’s education.

I firmly believe that men and women in Bangladesh together will lead the country towards sustainable development in a balanced manner with no one left behind, where everyone will live in human dignity, overcoming all odds.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

Why a Feminist Foreign Policy Is Needed More than Ever

7 March 2017 - 1:06am

Margot Wallström

By Margot Wallström
Stockholm, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Lately, the world has tended to present itself in increasingly darker shades. In many places, democracy is questioned, women’s rights are threatened, and the multilateral system that has taken decades to build is undermined.

No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights.

That is why I – when I assumed office as Foreign Minister over two years ago – announced that Sweden would pursue a feminist foreign policy. Today, this policy is more needed than ever.

The world is torn by conflicts that are perhaps more complex and more difficult to solve than ever before. Almost half of all conflicts reoccur within five years. Over 1.5 billion people live in fragile states and conflict zones.

In order to respond to these global challenges, we need to connect the dots and see what drives peace. We need to change our policies from reactive to proactive, focusing on preventing rather than responding. And prevention can never be successful without the full picture of how certain situations affect men, women, boys and girls differently. Applying gender analysis, strengthening the collection of gender disaggregated data, improving accountability and bringing women into peace negotiations and peacebuilding will be key in moving forward.

Studies show that conflict analyses that include gender aspects and women’s experiences are more efficient. Rise in sexual and gender based violence can for example be an early indicator of conflict. We also need to take into account the studies that show a correlation between gender equal societies and peace.

Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy and social justice. But overwhelming evidence shows that it is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security. Increasing gender equality has positive effects on food security, extremism, health, education and numerous other key global concerns.

With Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, we bring all our foreign policy tools into play for gender equality and apply a systematic gender perspective in everything we do. It is an analytical tool for making informed decisions.

The feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change which aims to increase the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls, based on the reality where they live.

Representation is at the core of the policy, since it is such a powerful vehicle for both the enjoyment of rights and access to resources. Whether it regards foreign or domestic policy, whether in Sweden or any other place in the world, we see that women are still under-represented in influential positions in all areas of society. Non-representative decision-making is more likely to yield discriminatory and suboptimal outcomes. Put women at the table from the start and you will notice that more issues and perspectives are brought to light.

Despite facing discouraging times for world politics, it is important to remember that change is possible. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy makes a tangible difference. Every day, embassies, agencies and departments implement context- and knowledge-based policy around the world. And more countries are realising that gender equality simply makes sense.

To mention some examples of how we work, Sweden has provided extensive support for the involvement of women in the Colombian peace process, ensuring that significant perspectives were lifted in the peace agreement. We have also established a Swedish network of women peace mediators, co-established a Nordic equivalent and reached out to other countries and regions to encourage them to form their own networks.

Together with the ICC and partner countries, we counter impunity for sexual and gender based violence in conflicts. We also make sure that humanitarian actors only receive funding if their work is based on gender disaggregated data. Governmental guidelines have been given to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, contributing to making gender equality the main objective in an increasing amount of Sida’s specific sector issues.

These are just some examples of how our feminist foreign policy translates into practice, making a difference for women and girls around the world.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.