Interpress News Service

Barefoot Solar Warriors Take On Gender Injustice and Climate Change

6 March 2017 - 9:05pm

Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TILONIA, India, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

On a summer morning in 2008, Magan Kawar decided to leave her village for a job. The very next day, her parents-in-law excommunicated her.

“They were very angry,” says the 52-year-old mother of two from Bhawani Khera village of Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a district 400 kms west of New Delhi."The world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories.” --Magan Kawar

“Women never stepped out of the home alone. To go outside of the village and work in an office alongside men was a disgrace. My parents-in-law said I had brought upon them that disgrace.”

But even as angry relatives and shocked neighbors watched in utter dismay, Kawar traveled to Tilonia, a village an hour away. Here, along with her husband, she became a technician at a rural innovation centre. As the world shut its doors behind her, her husband assured her: “Everything would be alright one day.”

Eight years later, Kawar who never studied beyond the third grade, is one of India’s top renewable energy experts. She is a lead instructor at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a unique innovation and training centre where rural women from across India and the world are trained in solar technologies.

A college for barefoot engineers

The Barefoot College of Tilonia was established four decades ago by Bunker Roy, a visionary educationist and environmentalist who envisoned a place where women with little or no formal education could learn livelihood skills and play a leadership role in their communities.

The skills taught here are many, including sewing, welding and carpentry, among others, but the flagship programme of the college is a six-month biannual course in solar technology.

The course accepts women of 35 years and older, mostly from economically or socially underprivileged communities living in areas that have no electricity. There are two separate learning centres for Indian and international trainees who are called ‘Solar Mamas.’

Each of the Solar Mamas is selected by her own community and sent to the college by their respective governments where they are provided a fellowship by the government of India. It covers their cost of their stay at the college campus, including food and accommodation.

Currently, there are 30 Solar Mamas from 13 countries of Asia and Africa, including India, Myanmar, Syria, Mali, Sierra Leone and Botswana. The latest group is slated to graduate on Mar. 15 – the day they will receive 700 dollars as a stipend for the six months they spent here. For many, this is also an amount they can use as seed money to start a business in their home country.

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama – a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Learning through sign language

On the final Sunday of February, a group of local youths graduated from the Barefoot College after learning some livelihood skills. At their graduation ceremony, each of the students was presented with a solar lantern – made by the women solar technicians of the college.

The circuit of the lantern is complex, with dozens of minuscule electronic chips assembled on a 4-inch long plate. To teach this complex technology to the trainees when neither teacher nor student speak English or share a common language may seem extremely daunting to others, but the barefoot instructors have their own innovative methodology.

Explains Magan Kawar, “We first make a list of the most important parts and equipment and begin by making each trainee learn by heart the names. That is essential. After that, we communicate by pointing at a part, signs and actions. For example, I will take a circuit plate, point at a part and say, ‘press’. Or, I will then take a cable from the power testing machine, touch this to the plate, show it to the trainees and say, ’power testing’. They follow suit.”

There are no certificates awarded to the graduates, but then, this college is not a place that upholds formal educational norms. Instead, it practices a “very, very simple” method that champions imparting education that “truly empowers,” says Bunker Roy, who is also the director of the college.

“Imagine a woman who never traveled out of her village. Can’t read or write. Takes a flight and travels for 19 hours…comes to a strange country, strange food, strange language and in six months, she becomes a solar engineer using sign language. She knows more about solar engineering than a college graduate. What can be more exhilarating than this?” asks Roy.

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Honing climate leadership skills

Elizabeth Halauafu, 42, is from Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean which considered is the third most vulnerable country on earth to rising sea levels from climate change. Despite its high vulnerability, however, the country has been slow in adopting climate adaptation measures, including renewable energy.

But as Tonga finally wakes up to play a stronger role in climate action, Bayes could become one of the pioneers in rural solar technology thanks to her training at the Barefoot College.

“I have already learned about solar installations. I can build a circuit, assemble and repair solar lights. Once I return to Tonga, I will be happy to join a job that will allow me to use my skills. I and my husband may also start a solar venture,” says Bayes, before recalling that when she returns home, the season of oceanic storms will begin when electricity will be scarce.

A place to share, forget and rise above

Solar Mamas Hala Naseef and and Azhar Sarhan are from Damascus. The government may try to show Damascus as an oasis in an otherwise war-torn Syria, but the ground realities are different: there are frequent power outrage and everyone lives in fear of a total collapse of the grid. Solar technology is not very popular, but could soon become the only source of power if the war does not end soon, says the duo.

It has been a long journey from Damascus to the Barefoot College for both Sarhan and Naseef, but both are quick to point out that the past five months, despite daunting odds, have been a very enriching experience.

“I miss home and the food…but to see other women who have come from difficult places, we forget our own struggle,“ says Naseef.

Lila Devi Gujjar, who teaches alongside Magan Kawar, says that most of their trainees come from conflict zones and carry a ‘burden of pain.”

“Many of them are survivors of abuse, violence and are broken in spirit. But here they find a way to forget their past and get new hope to rebuild their lives,” says Gujjar.

Kawar shares the story of Chantal, one of her recent trainees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was raped several times in her home country. “It was her first escape from the violence. She first cried for days, then just immersed herself in learning. Somehow, she found our informal learning environment very soothing.

“And we also realized that the world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories,” says Kawar, who wrote her own story a few years ago by sending her two children to universities and inviting her parents-in-law to visit the Barefoot College.

“They came, saw me teaching and my mother-in-law said, ‘But it is just women educating each other!’ That day, she welcomed me back into the family,” says the barefoot engineer with a smile.

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16-Hour Days for Zimbabwe’s Women

6 March 2017 - 9:00pm

Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

As the cock crows, Tambudzai Zimbudzana, 32, is suddenly awakened from sleep. She quickly folds her blankets and strides outside her three-room, sheet iron-roofed house in rural Masvingo.

Picking up a few logs of firewood from a huge pile, Zimbudzana sets a fire to boil water and prepare food for her husband to bathe and eat before cycling to work.“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large.” --Kelvin Hazangwi

“Shorai! Shorai! Shorai!” Zimbudzana calls her 14 year-old daughter who is fast asleep to assist her with other duties.

“My day begins at 4 am, cooking, setting a fire, fetching water and spending the rest of the day in the field or garden depending on the season. My day often ends at ten in the evening as I have to ensure all household work is done, including attending to the demands of my six children, before I put my body to rest,” Zimbudzana told IPS.

She said she rarely attends community activities because of time and work that demands her presence.

Many women and girls carry the heavy, unequal and seemingly natural burden of care work, which is rarely appreciated, not financially beneficial and deeply rooted in culture.

“In recent years, significant evidence and research findings demonstrate that investments in addressing unpaid care burden– by governments, civil society and employers – improve wellbeing, women’s enjoyment of their rights, economic development and reduce inequality,” says Anna Giolitto, Oxfam Programs Manager on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) program.

Since 2014, Oxfam in Zimbabwe has been working to strengthen women’s economic rights by building data on unpaid care, innovate on interventions and influence policy and practice to address care as part of women’s empowerment.

Oxfam has carried out programmes in three districts since 2014 and developed two tools to assess unpaid household work and care of people in the communities: The Rapid Care Analysis and Household Care Survey.

“The key aim is to reduce the time or labour required for daily housework and caring for people, and thus increase women’s participation, empowerment, leadership and representation in both the public and private spheres,” Giolitto told IPS.

Results of the survey showed that women do 3–6 times more hours of care work than men.

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

On Mar. 8, countries around the world will come together to commemorate International Women’s Day, under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work”.

According to UN Women, the world of work is evolving, with significant implications for women. There is globalization, technological and digital revolutions and opportunities for women.

However, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies, and environmental impacts have a negative effect on the well-being of many women in Zimbabwe and the world. As such, they must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.

Women in the informal economy in Zimbabwe grapple with a hostile economic environment, security and customs officials on a daily basis.

Lorraine Sibanda, President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), says, “Our goods are confiscated at border posts due to the limited amount of goods one is allowed to bring into the country. We end up paying more money to transporters in order to get reasonable stock across the border.”

Sibanda added that the transporters’ charges are not consistent and one may pay several times for the same goods.  Further, they have to carry heavy loads of goods over a long period of time, which can have health implications for these women involved with cross-border trading.

“Little or lack of knowledge of customs and exercise procedures such as declaration of goods also contributes traders falling prey to predatory transporters, immigration personnel and other elements who prowl the border post for a living,” Sibanda told IPS.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Office (ZimStats) has noted that 84 percent of the country’s working class are in the informal sector, with 11 percent in formal employment. Further, ZCIEA told IPS that 65 percent of its members are women.

Though Oxfam does not work with women cross-border traders in Zimbabwe, it has used the “four R’s” approach for change.

  • Recognize care work at policy, community and household level, make it visible and value it. Change the idea that it’s just natural activity of women, it’s work.
  • Reduce care work through using time labour saving technologies and services;
  • Redistribute responsibility for care more equitably – from women to men, and from families to the State/employers.
  • Represent carers in decision making.

“Women will be able to do more when there are men sharing the responsibility at home as well as playing a key role in decisions at their households,” Giolitto said.

Kelvin Hazangwi from Padare (Men’s Forum on Gender) also emphasized the need to share unpaid care work.

“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large,” says Hazangwi.

Padare is a men’s forum advocating for gender equality in Zimbabwe.

ZCIEA believes the informal sector is the future, thus gender-inclusive economic policies, formalization of informal trading, decent infrastructure, provision of social protection, healthcare services, recognition of informal traders as key economic players will result in sustainable, inclusive growth.

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Be Bold for Change–Empower Women, Empower Humanity

6 March 2017 - 4:30am

Robert Watkins, is United Nations Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh

By Robert Watkins
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The world of work is changing for women across the globe and Bangladesh is no exception. Factors such as globalization, advancement in technology, and the digital revolution have ushered in new ways for women to enter into work. The theme for the International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2017, focuses on “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” under which gender parity in the workforce is the critical prerequisite for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Robert Watkins

A McKinsey Global Institute report in 2015 found that $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women, who make up half of the word’s work-age population, were to achieve their economic potential. Gender parity at work is a global economic challenge but efforts at a national level can make a significant difference. While there is a general consensus regarding the urgent need to increase women’s participation in the workforce and acknowledge their contributions to the global economy, we are still far from creating an economy that allows all women to realize their potential free from discrimination or threat of violence and sexual harassment.

Bangladesh has made great strides in improving the lives of women and girls. In the last decade, poverty has been slashed by half; nearly 90 percent of girl children are enrolled in schools; child mortality has reduced by 60 percent. Moreover, Bangladesh’s commitment to the global 2030 roadmap and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has placed gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of its gender-responsive agenda. The Government’s Vision 2021 as well as the Seventh Five-Year Plan prioritizes this agenda and we must applaud their bold leadership in pursuing progress, persistently and creatively, for inclusive economic growth. However, challenges such as poor working conditions, rising incidences of gender-based violence, rapid and unchecked urbanization, limited access to basic social services, and climate change continue to disrupt the progress made towards women’s economic empowerment.

In Bangladesh, the ready-made garment sector remains one of the most important drivers of women’s ability to engage in paid work. Earlier studies have shown that women make up approximately 80 percent of their workforce, but more recent trends suggest that female participation may actually be less than 60 percent. The 2016 National Labor Survey results should shed important light on the overall status of women in the economy. The survey results, upon release, will hopefully initiate a widespread debate around the necessary gender-responsive action required to increase the participation of women across all sectors.

In spite of encouraging signs of improvement in the formal economy, women continue to face enormous challenges in building sustainable and empowering livelihoods. Women migrant workers from Bangladesh – over 169,000 in the last three years alone, as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – are commonly subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and exploitation due to inadequate standards for accountability and vigilance, legal channels and compact focusing on their rights, voice, and leadership. Similarly, in the RMG sector women earn, on average, 45 percent less than their male counterparts and usually do not have the knowledge, skills or opportunities to grow their incomes or savings. In addition, the constant threat of gender-based violence both at home and at work creates barriers that prevent women garment workers from influencing or changing working conditions for the better.

One of the key measures to ensuring women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work is bridging the persistent gender pay gap. According to one estimate, this gap for women in waged labor in Bangladesh stands at 48 percent –almost double of the global 24 percent average. Closing this gap will require national-level policies and regulations, complimented by financial incentives, capability building, advocacy and awareness. We must also recognize women’s unpaid contributions to the ‘invisible’ economy in the form of care and domestic work, as well as address the gender gap in leadership and entrepreneurship. National policies must address the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy, promote access to innovative technologies and practices, introduce climate-resilient jobs, and create safe working environments for women.

Working alongside the Government and other partners invested in economic growth — the private sector, civil society organizations, and media — the United Nations is committed to improving and increasing women’s representation and access to decent work. We are committed to enabling and facilitating access to services that level the playing field and increase the odds for women to fully and meaningfully enter, stay, and grow in their workplace.

In a world where women’s prospects are blighted by regressive norms and attitudes, both men and women have to take a stand for meaningful change. If we are to reach Planet 50-50 by 2030, we have to collectively devise accelerators and implement both short and long-term measures that are viable and effective. The private sector, in partnership with government and non-governmental organization, can do a lot more to improve working conditions for women. There is ample evidence from around the world that companies stand to benefit both directly and indirectly by introducing measures that value and promote gender parity.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we call upon all actors to step forward and work towards achieving Planet 50-50 by 2030. Let’s commit publicly through platforms like the UN Women’s He for She campaign (visit heforshe.org) to set ambitious yet achievable gender goals over the next five years. The Government of Bangladesh’s Seventh Five-Year plan coincides with the first phase of the UN’s SDGs and the timing couldn’t be any better to collectively drive inclusive economic progress, emboldened by bold thinking and courageous leadership.

Join the movement, Be Bold For Change.

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.

For Societies to Thrive, We Must Ensure Gender Equality

6 March 2017 - 3:33am

Ambassador Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

Consider this: gender inequality is costing sub Saharan Africa US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. In a corporate setting, that extent of losses would call for a serious reset of the business’s operational approach.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Despite stupendous advancements in science and technology, it has taken mankind two millennia to fully realize the critical role of women in the global social and economic transformation.

For any country to realize its full economic and democratic potential, the quest for women’s participation in leadership and decision making must be embraced, understood, appreciated and prioritized.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a key international legal instrument that provides a framework for advancement of the right of women. Yet decades after its ratification, women in Africa continue to face significant barriers that restrict their economic and political participation, as well as cultural norms that compromise their sexual and reproductive health.

As we observe this year’s International Women’s Day, it is time to interrogate opportunities for the women of Africa in enhancing the growth trajectory already being seen. The Day must not pass as just another day in the calendar of carnivals; we must use it to cross-examine the impact of our actions on increasing women’s access to economic opportunity, giving women an equal voice in households and societies and closing gender gaps in education.

On the economic front, the deck has always been stacked against women. This is especially unfortunate because women are more active as economic agents in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The continent’s economy is anchored on agriculture where 70% of the population finds its upkeep. In this sector, two-thirds of the labour force comprises women.

Siddharth Chatterjee

Unfortunately however, women farmers have less access to essential inputs—land, credit, fertilizers, new technologies and extension services. As a result, their yields tend to be less than optimum.

In addition, while African women are highly entrepreneurial and own about a third of all businesses across Africa, they are more likely to be running microenterprises in the informal sector, engaging in low-value-added activities that reap marginal returns.

Their prospects of generating larger earnings are limited by lack of basic skills, a lack of access to financial services and the challenges of balancing business and domestic obligations. The result is that women remain only at the margins of formal economies.

Where women lack a reasonable income, society misses out on the multiplier effect that has been so well documented regarding women’s income. Women reinvest a much higher part of their earnings in their families and communities than men, spreading wealth and creating a positive impact on future development.

In a study done in Kenya for instance, the World Bank notes that the health outcome of a child is better when the mother has an income, with the child growing about 17% taller due to more investment in health and nutrition.

The other major reason the continent continues to miss out on the potential of half its population is the gender gap in education. While in some areas gender gaps have narrowed noticeably, as in primary schools, where nearly as many girls as boys are now enrolled. But completion rates remain low, and many girls still are unable to go on to secondary or tertiary education.

Because they are less prepared for the formal sector, the result is a vicious cycle of poverty, ill-health and dependency.

That dependency manifests itself not only in the household where the woman has little or no say but also in little voice in the social and political space. The different experiences of men and women, are best articulated where both are represented in decision making spaces.

Having women in leadership, ought to translate to laws, policies, programmes and practices that takes into account their daily experiences. Having women and men around the decision making table further ensures that their different interests which often speak to their peculiar needs are accounted for.

Economic opportunities, access to education and participation in socio-political processes hold the key to opening up a cornucopia of opportunities not just for women but for the entire society.

The United Nations Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres has said that gender equality will be a focus area of his work as the UN chief. “I have long been aware of the hurdles women face in society, in the family and in the workplace just because of their gender. I have witnessed the violence they are subject to during conflict, or while fleeing it, just because they are women.”

We must change this narrative with resolve and commitment.

To recover the US$ 95 billion lost annually in Sub-Saharan Africa, we have to ensure women’s full empowerment and every girl has an opportunity to achieve her full human potential.

As long as these continue to be neglected, our chances of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals will be greatly diminished.

We must therefore empower women so they can play a full role in sustainable development.

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.

Unemployment and the Informal Economy – Key Challenges for Women in Latin America

6 March 2017 - 2:54am

This op-ed article by José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, regional director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, is part of the special IPS coverage on the occasion of International Women’s Day, celebrated March 8.

By Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs
LIMA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The participation of women in the labour market in Latin America and the Caribbean has steadily grown over the last few decades. But in 2017, as unemployment and informal work are on the rise, there is a continued need to push hard for gender equality in order to create more and better employment for the 255 million women of working age in this region.

Almost half of these women, 126 million, are already part of the labour force – a very important achievement that took many years to reach. Once more, however, it must be stressed that we cannot let down our guard.

Over the past year, as the wave of slow growth and in some cases of economic contraction which struck the region impacted on the labour market, generating a sharp rise in unemployment and also a decline in the quality of employment with respect to some indicators, it has become evident that this situation affects women to a larger extent.

The regional average unemployment rate for women shot up to levels not seen for over a decade in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 9.8 per cent – on the brink of two digits. If projections of slow economic growth for this year prove correct, the average rate could climb above 10 per cent in 2017.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

The unemployment rate for women grew 1.6 percentage points, compared to 1.3 percentage points for men. Of the five million people who joined the ranks of the unemployed, 2.3 million were women. This means that about 12 million women are actively looking for work, without success..

The participation of women in the labour force has continued to expand over the last year. At a national level (rural+urban), women’s participation has gone from 49.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. An increase is always good news. However, it still remains well below the participation of men, which is 74.6 per cent.

The downside was that the demand for labour fell from 45.2 to 44.9 per cent in the case of women. It also dropped in the case of men, although the level remains much higher, at 69.3 per cent.
The latest ILO (International Labour Organisation) Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean also noted that the decline in economic activity has been reflected in a drop in the number of wage-earners, a rise in the number of self-employed workers, and a decrease in formal sector wages, all of which are signs of an increase in labour informality.

The most recent estimates available regarding informality among women indicate that almost half of the female labour force works under these conditions, which generally mean labour instability, low incomes, and a lack of protection and rights.

Several aspects to be taken into account when analysing women’s labour participation have been identified, such as the fact that about 70 per cent of women who work do so in the retail trade and services sector, often in precarious conditions, for example, without contracts.

In addition, 17 million women in the region work as domestics. Women make up 90 per cent of domestic workers. In this sector, the levels of informality are still very high, around 70 per cent.

This description of the characteristics of women’s insertion in the labour market would not be complete without pointing out a notable aspect mentioned by the regional report on “Decent work and gender equality” by several United Nations agencies presented in 2013: in this region, 53.7 per cent of female workers have more than ten years of formal education, in contrast to just 40.4 per cent of men.

Moreover, 22.8 per cent of women in the labour force have tertiary education (complete or incomplete), by comparison to 16.2 per cent of men.

However, this does not prevent the persistence of a significant wage gap. A report by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) noted that in 2016, according to available data, women earned 83.9 per cent of what men earned in similar jobs. The gap is still wider among men and women with higher educational levels.

These figures should serve as a wake-up call.

This issue is already part of the sustainable development goals set for all countries in the 2030 Agenda. Particularly, in Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and is key for Goal #8 on economic growth and decent work. For the ILO, gender equality is a cross-cutting objective, present in all its activities.

We are facing a structural challenge, which must involve economic, social, and, as we know, cultural changes as well. It is necessary for governments as well as social actors to make the achievement of greater equality between men and women a top priority.

Formulas have to be sought to improve women’s productivity, stimulating their participation in more dynamic sectors, of medium to high productivity, while at the same time identifying the causes of labour market segregation.

To continue advancing towards equality in the labour market, it is necessary to resort to a combination of actions aiming at gender equality, including: active employment policies; network and infrastructure for caregiving and new policies for services for child care and care of dependent persons; strategies to promote the division of household responsibilities; improved education and vocational training; incentives for women entrepreneurs; increased social security coverage; and determined action to prevent and combat violence against women, including in the workplace.
Equality in employment remains one of the most important challenges for achieving a better future for workers in the region.

New Maternity Legislation in Cuba Ignores Fathers

6 March 2017 - 2:52am

A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

A new set of regulations to strengthen the maternity rights of working women and encourage people to have children in Cuba were seen as a positive step but not enough, because they do not include measures to encourage more active participation in child-rearing by men.

“These legislative changes promote responsible maternity and paternity,” sociologist Magela Romero, who is about to become a mother, told IPS. “There are still aspects to review to achieve a legal text which reflects from beginning to end its spirit of promoting a culture of equality between parents.”

Against a backdrop of a record low fertility rate and accelerated aging of the population, the authorities published on Feb. 10 two new decree-laws and four statutes that modify the 2003 Law for Working Mothers, which was reformed previously in 2011.

The theme this year of International Women’s Day, celebrated Mar. 8, is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”, because improving the participation of women in the labour market is seen as essential to achieving equality.

Romero, who is currently studying the father figure in Cuba’s labour legislation, proposed revising even “the most subtle aspects, such as the title of the law itself, which doesn’t mention the working father, and therefore could conceal them as possible beneficiaries.”

In 2003, Cuba placed itself in the forefront in Latin America, passing a law that ensured working fathers one year of parental leave in case they became widowers or were abandoned by the mother.

But in what is seen as a sign of the prevailing sexism in Cuban society, few men have availed themselves of this benefit. The latest figures show that only 125 fathers requested parental leave between 2006 and 2013, in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people.

In response to the low level of involvement by fathers and to address the fact that many children are mainly cared for by their grandmothers, the new regulations also allow working maternal or paternal grandparents to request leave to take care of newborns.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, just 49 per cent of children in Cuba lived with both parents, 38 per cent only lived with their mother (the majority) or their father, while 13 per cent were at the time being cared for by other relatives.

Cuba is the country with the lowest number of children per woman in Latin America – 1.72 in 2015, according to official figures – in a country which since 1978 has had a fertility rate below the replacement level of one daughter per woman, a situation that the region as a whole will not reach until 2050.

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Romero said the new laws acknowledge new developments that have arisen in light of the current economic reforms, such as women having more than one job, and those that make up the growing private sector, who constitute 32 per cent of the 507,342 registered self-employed workers.

For this reason, women who work in the private sector and have two or more children under 17 will pay only 50 percent of the monthly taxes they would otherwise owe. And people with a permit to offer services of childcare, or caring for sick, disabled or elderly people, will also pay half of the monthly tax.

Moreover, women who go back to their public sector jobs before the end of the year of maternity leave continue to draw the monthly stipend of 60 per cent of their salary. And those with two jobs receive maternity payments for each job.

In addition, families with more than two children pay reduced fees, or are even exempt from paying, for public daycare and school meals.

Hundreds of comments on local news websites have urged the authorities to take measures in that direction and have assessed them as positive, for seeking to ease the heavy economic burden that a baby implies in a country in the grip of a virtually chronic economic crisis since 1991, and which is now suffering a new economic downturn.

Having a baby in Cuba “can be economically a tremendously stressful challenge,” said Mayra García, who is expecting at any moment the birth of her first child. It is even hard for her and her husband, who waited to get pregnant until they had their own house, were economically independent and had stable jobs in their professions.

“And few couples our age are able to achieve such economic independence,” the 30-year-old editor, who hopes to have at least two children, told IPS.

She said it was a good thing that new mothers who return to their jobs before the year is up continue to draw their maternity leave stipend. And she called for the expansion and improvement of public childcare services, to help families reconcile family life and work.

“Currently, public childcare centres are unable to keep up with demand,” she said.

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In public daycare centres, monthly fees per child average 40 cuban pesos (1.6 dollars) and vary depending on the family’s income. With differences per region, a private daycare costs about 100 cuban pesos (four dollars) and some exclusive childcare centres in the capital even cost much more and in dollars.

Marybexy Calcerrada and Aida Torralbas, psychologists and gender experts who live in the city of Holguín, 689 km east of Havana, propose creating support mechanisms in the workplace for more specific cases.

“A quota for subsidised purchases of a variety of products to meet the basic needs of infants and adolescents could be considered,” Calcerrada told IPS, urging “continued encouragement of the involvement of men in their role as fathers.”

She believes that “parents should be given quotas of hours for justified absence from work to take care of children in the face of health problems and school needs.”

Studies show that working women in Cuba earn less than men, despite earning equal wages, because they are absent more often from their jobs, to take care of their children and sick and elderly people in their care.

For Torralbas, the new reforms in the legislation “could have been a good opportunity to give fathers a short period of leave after their baby’s birth. In other countries, the father has two weeks of parental leave when his child is born,” she said as an example.

“In Cuba, women and men think it over carefully before having children,” said Frank Alejandro Velázquez. “They are not the same mothers and fathers as 60 years ago. They have been taught to think about minimally adequate, fair social conditions, infused with gender equality, before having a child.”

This young expert of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue- Cuba, in the city of Cárdenas, 150 km east of Havana, also brought up other issues, such as the “social uncertainty” that exists in this country where the government began to reform its socialist system in 2008.

“These measures are just a step forward with respect to previous legislation,” he told IPS.

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New land rights are changing women’s world of work

6 March 2017 - 2:36am

Monique Barbut is Assistant Secretary General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

International Women’s Day this year focuses on economic empowerment in the changing world of work. The vision is to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by 2030. Girls’ aged three will become adults with a legal right to work in 2030. Together, with those aged up to 10, these girls are the prime target for gender equality by 2030.

Monique Barbut

But the persistence of the obstacles women have faced throughout history and the neglect of poor rural women in the Millennium Development Goals era, cautions us to focus on two fronts. First, the front-end mechanisms, such as education, that prepare young women and girls for their careers. But we must not forget the back-end mechanisms linked to the land, which dictate the livelihoods of a majority of women in the rural areas. Women will likely still fall back on them in 2030. They are equally vital.

Women’s land rights, one of the 2030 targets for gender equality, is a key mechanism that will shape women’s progress in agriculture. But is change possible?

By 2011, women made up 43 percent of the labor in agriculture in the developing countries. In Africa and Asia respectively, 60 and 70 percent of the adult women worked the land. But in many of these countries, women farmers can only use, not own the land they farm. Worse, in some cases, the surplus they produce or its earnings are seized by their husbands, based on their claim to land ownership. Left in a bind, many rural women, whose primary source of livelihood is the land, farm unsecured or marginal land or end up using the family land unsustainably.

Some experiments coming out of Africa show there are innovative ways for women to get land rights and ownership over their produce, which then create wealth and food security for families. They show that political will is a critical lever for change.

In the Mboula region of Senegal, the regional government allocated tracks of land to women’s groups to farm together to meet household food needs. Women self-organized into groups that work one day a week. The benefits are more than the government expected. Women spend less time working the land but consistently produce surplus food, meeting both family and market needs. The results, combined with the security of tenure they enjoy over the land they use, have motivated the women to seek training to cultivate a traditional tree, at scale. They intend to produce its oil commercially, harvest its leaves for food and improve the land’s productivity through agroforestry.

In Eastern Uganda, the government has taken a similar initiative one step further. It targets women who only possess user rights to family land. Previously food insecure, they have rehabilitated degraded land and are producing a surplus. The environment and trade ministries jointly developed a program to train the women on how set up, run and manage a cooperative. The women are close to joining the formal food supply chain. They are entrepreneurs and job creators in their community.

Small changes can be transformational.

Preparing every girl to become economically empowered is a top priority for achieving gender equality by 2030. The rear view of history cautions that innovating on women’s land rights as we advance towards 2030 will also be vital.

There are many routes to that objective. Rural women can obtain land rights as individuals or groups. When women only have user and access rights to land, enabling them to own and market what they produce is another option. The denial of land rights by culture is not inescapable trap. Where the leadership is enlightened and progressive, it is possible to create new land rights models.

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 Close the Gender Gap in Africa with Bold Actions

6 March 2017 - 1:34am

Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank

By Akinwumi Adesina
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and to be bold in promoting gender parity.

Akinwumi Adesina

Our world would be a much better place with gender parity in all spheres. We need more women as CEOs, in parliaments, as engineers, computer scientists, astronauts, and as heads of state, traditional areas dominated by men.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 by the World Economic Forum estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will achieve gender parity in 79 years. We cannot afford to wait so long. Africa would have lost all the benefits of developing faster with several generations of women and girls.

It’s time to close the gender gap in Africa with bold actions.

Women can play a huge role in societies undergoing conflicts, as peace makers, reconciling communities, building peace and building societal resilience. In Sudan, where conflicts abound, the African Development Bank is providing support of close to $5 million for women to help in conflict resolution.

We are doing more: we are taking decisive action to level the playing field for women’s access to finance. Women dominate the small and medium scale enterprises across Africa. They dominate farming but lack access to secure land and property rights. Yet they pay back loans better than men. When Africa gets the issues of women right, it will finally get agriculture right.

The African Development Bank has launched the Affirmative Finance Action for Women (AFAWA), a bold effort to help leverage $3 billion for women owned businesses, including women farmers.

At the Bank, we are working hard internally to close the gender gap. Of the recent senior management appointments I have made to run the business of the Bank in our 5 regional offices, 50% are women.

The recruitment of young professionals within the Bank is also more gender balanced, and the 2015 cohort shows that 60% are female.

Another positive move within the Bank is the introduction of a women’s mentorship pilot “Crossing Thresholds,” which provides women with an opportunity to develop their career in a structured and supportive environment.

One young participant commented, “It has provided networking opportunities, professional development and most importantly I feel part of a group; it has created solidarity and given women more confidence.”

We are doing better in mainstreaming gender into our Bank operations. When comparing the years 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, the Bank has improved its performance in gender parity in job creation and gender-specific training for jobs. Gender specific impacts of a Bank’s operations by sector are becoming more equal between females and males, and is even higher at 60% in favor of women in education.

The Bank is fully committed to speeding up gender parity within the institution and across its Regional Member Countries. To help with this, we have created a new Department of Gender, Women and Civil Society within the Bank.

We will take a page from the International Women’s Day 2017 campaign and commit to being “bold for change”. We will be bold in our support for women and inclusiveness of women and girls. Africa’s economic growth will be faster and development outcomes better when we ensure gender equality.

After all, no bird can fly with just one wing. Africa needs to fly with two wings in balance. And that is exactly what gender parity does.

So let’s get on it much faster.

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

Breaking Barriers for Women Is a Short Cut to Economic Growth and Development

6 March 2017 - 12:32am

Lilianne Ploumen is Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands

By Lilianne Ploumen
The Hague, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

In South Asian societies, as elsewhere, it all too common for women to be held back, time and again Women’s potential remains largely untapped – which is not only morally wrong, but also economically unwise. According to recent projections, harnessing women’s full potential throughout South Asia would increase GNP by more than half by 2025. In absolute terms, women could earn countries in South Asia an additional 400 billion dollars in the next ten years! clearly, women hold the key to economic success for South Asia: their empowerment can fuel further development. The Netherlands has invested substantially in the economic empowerment of women in this region. Our successes, achieved in collaboration with many stakeholders, show what can be achieved if we keep up these efforts.

Lilianne Ploumen

It is important to know, firsts what barriers are holding women back. There are several, but all come down to women’s subordinate role in society. Women’s potential cannot be fully exploited until we break down these barriers, in various sphere of life. They need access to equitable and safe employment, education and training. As well as access to and control over economic resources and opportunities. Their voices must be heard and their influence on policy felt. They must have freedom from violence, freedom of movement, access to and control over reproductive health and family planning, and social protection and child care. All these may seem like formidable tasks, but the good news is that many of the investments needed, by public and private actors, yield positive returns on investment.

I can illustrate this using our experience in the garment industry. The growth of the garment industry in South Asia has greatly increased access to employment for women. These jobs offer enormous new opportunities for the economic empowerment of women and girls, who often come from poor rural communities where they are confined to the domestic sphere. The benefits of work extend beyond the economic. These young women gain a greater say in their households, more autonomy in decision-making and more self-esteem.

All’s well that ends well? No. We must not turn away from the violations of basic women’s rights that often occur in the garment industry. Women generally earn less than men, and they often face harassment and gender-based violence. lmproving their working conditions is the right thing to do. And, as independent research confirms, it makes economic sense too.

Through various programmes, the Netherlands helps strengthen the position of female workers in the garment industry. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds a strategic partnership made up of the Fair Wear Foundation. CNV International and Mondiaal FNV to reduce gender-based violence and promote gender equality in the garment industry. It runs projects in India, Bangladesh and other producing countries. In Bangladesh for example, the partnership is working to increase women’s participation in dialogue between workers and factory management. Works councils at the factories and trade unions receive support, enabling them to effectively address gender-based violence.

The Netherlands also provides core funding to the Better Work programme, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization(ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better Work aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in global garment supply chains, and focuses especially on strengthening the position of women in these supply chains. The impact of the interventions is backed up by sound research. An independent evaluation by Tufts University, for example, found that training supervisors through the Better Work programme increased productivity by up to 22%, and traced this in particular to the training of female supervisors. These are important findings, as they demonstrate that promoting women to management positions not only has positive effect on their empowerment but also makes good business sense.

The same approach is followed in a project in Bangladesh that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through inclusive business practices for female workers in the ready-made garment sector. Funded by our embassy in Dhaka and implemented by SNV, the project supports female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable and good-quality. SRHR services and products. The project is running at 19 factories and uses 10 selected SRHR service providers and private sector partners to pilot and test activities that deliver win-win solutions for businesses and workers.

Part and parcel of our approach to increase women’s economic empowerment is to ensure that women have full control over family planning. In response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy – the decision by the new US administration to suspend funding for organisations that provide access to safe abortion or information about abortion – I have established She Decides, an initiative that aims to leverage financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide, mitigating the impact of the US funding cuts.

In conclusion, women hold an important key to economic success in South Asia. By empowering women, we improve both their welfare and their economic contribution. We have made progress in improving women’s conditions in the garment industry and beyond. If South Asia is to reap the full potential of the female half of its population, it is vital to sustain the gains made so far and scale them up fast. For its part, the Netherlands will continue— with renewed vigour – to work with governments, brands, factories and civil societies so as to give women the opportunities they deserve.

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.

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Unhealthy Environment Causes 1 in 4 Child Deaths: WHO

5 March 2017 - 8:14pm
Unhealthy environments – both inside and outside the home – cause the deaths of more than 1.7 million child under the age of five every year, according to two new reports released by the World Health Organization (WHO) Monday. Even in their own homes, many children in developing countries have neither clean air to breathe nor clean water to […]

Caribbean Awaits Trump Moves on Climate Funding, Paris Deal

5 March 2017 - 8:56am

Torrential rains from trough systems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2016 resulted in landslides like this one, which swept one structure away and threatened nearby houses. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 5 2017 (IPS)

Caribbean leaders worry that with climate change sceptic Donald Trump in the White House, it will be more difficult for small island developing states facing the brunt of climate change to secure the financing necessary to adapt to and mitigate against it.

Mere days after Trump’s inauguration, the White House ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to delete a page about climate change from its website. It has also also signalled its intention to slash the budget of the NOAA, the U.S.’s leading climate science agency, by 17 percent.“I have listened to President Trump after the election and he had said that he is keeping an open mind on the question of man-made climate change.” --PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves

If Trump follows through on his campaign promise to roll back his predecessor, Barack Obama’s, green legacy, it seems inevitable that Caribbean and other small island developing states will feel the effects. Trump had also explicitly vowed to stop all US payments to UN climate change programmes.

In this archipelagic nation, the Ralph Gonsalves administration spent some 3.7 million dollars in November 2016 – about 1 per cent of that year’s budget – cleaning up after a series of trough systems.

The sum did not take into account the monies needed to respond to the damage to public infrastructure and private homes, as well as losses in agriculture resulting from the severe weather, which the government has blamed on climate change.

“The United States is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases and, for us, the science is clear and we accept the conclusion of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change,” Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves told IPS.

He said his nation’s commitment is reflected not only in the fact that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the early signatories to the Paris Agreement at the end of COP 21, but was also one of the early ratifiers of the agreement.

The Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. During the election campaign, Trump vowed that he would pull the U.S. out of the deal if elected, although there appears to be some dissent within the administration on the issue.

It was reported this week that Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which oversaw the Paris deal, is visiting the US and had requested a meeting with Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and other officials over the commitment of the new administration to global climate goals.

So far, Espinosa says she has been snubbed, and a state department official told the Guardian there were no scheduled meetings to announce.

The official added: “As with many policies, this administration is conducting a broad review of international climate issues.”

Small island developing states have adopted the mantra “1.5 to stay alive”, saying that ideally global climate change should be contained to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels if their islands are to survive.

Gonsalves is hopeful that Trump would modify the policies outlined during the election campaign.

“I have listened to President Trump after the election and he had said that he is keeping an open mind on the question of man-made climate change,” he told IPS.

Gonsalves noted, however, the developments regarding the removal of climate change references from the White House website, adding, “But I would actually wait to see what would actually happen beyond what takes place on the website.”

The prime minister noted to IPS that the United States is an extremely powerful country, but suggested that even if Washington follows through on Trump’s campaign pledges, all is not lost.

“The United States of American has a population of 330 million people. Currently, in the world, there are seven and a half billion people … There is a lot of the world out there other than 330 million [people] and the world is not just one country — though a hugely important country.”

But Kingstown is not just waiting to see where Trump goes with his policy on climate change.

Come May 1, consumers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will begin paying a 1 per cent “Disaster Levy” on consumption within the country. The monies generated will be used to capitalise the Contingences Fund, which will be set up to help offset the cost of responding to natural disasters.

In presenting his case to lawmakers, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said that there have been frequent severe natural disasters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly since 2010, resulting in extensive loss and damage to houses, physical infrastructure and economic enterprises.

“The central government has incurred significant costs in providing relief and assistance to affected households and businesses and for rehabilitation and replacement of damaged infrastructure. Indeed, we have calculated that no less than 10 per cent of the public debt has been incurred for disaster-related projects and initiatives, narrowly-defined,” he told Parliament during his Budget Address in February.

As part of the Paris Agreement, developed countries said they intend to continue their existing collective goal to mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 and extend this until 2025. A new and higher goal will be set for after this period.

Gonsalves said it was not anticipated that the Paris Agreement would have been signed and ratified by November 2016. “But it was done. The anticipation was that it was going to take several years longer, so they put the commitments from 2020.

“Now, what are we going to do between 2017 and 2020?” he told IPS, adding that one practical response is to push for the pledges to come forward.

As Caribbean nations do what they can, locally, to respond to the impact of climate change, they are hoping that global funding initiatives for adaptation and mitigation do not take on the usual sluggish disbursement practices of other global initiatives.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community at their 28th Inter-Sessional Meeting in Guyana in mid-February that it was critical the Green Climate Fund be more readily accessible for countries trying to recover from the aftermaths of climate-driven natural disasters.

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Guyana’s New Oil Fields Both Blessing and Curse

3 March 2017 - 4:54pm

In November 2009, Guyana made a deal with Norway, which agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over the course of five years if Guyana maintained its low deforestation rate. The country has been lauded for its low-carbon development path. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

The recent discovery of large volumes of oil offshore of Guyana could prove to be a major headache for the country, as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) members press for keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels as provided for in the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

Exxon Mobil recently announced the successful drilling of a deep-water exploration well that may soon confirm that the seafloor beneath Guyana’s coastal waters contains one of the richest oil and natural gas discoveries in decades.“If you are now finding plenty of oil, and basically to keep temperatures down we are saying no more carbon fuels, then who are you going to sell it to?" --Dr. Al Binger of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Experts now estimate that one of its offshore fields alone, known as Liza, could contain 1.4 billion barrels of oil and mixed natural gas.

But in the face of a changing climate fueled by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Dr. Al Binger, interim executive director of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREE), said Guyana should not get too excited about the discovery.

“Guyana finds themselves inside AOSIS, the group that is fighting to keep temperatures under 1.5 degrees C, and now they are going to want to sell carbon which is going to get burned. I think they are going to have a lot of head-scratching to figure out ‘is this a blessing or is this a curse?’” Binger told IPS.

“If you are now finding plenty of oil, and basically to keep temperatures down we are saying no more carbon fuels, then who are you going to sell it to?” he said. “I don’t know how much they are going to be able to sell because they are trying to meet the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) requirements to actually keep the temperatures below 1.5 degrees C.”

Countries across the globe adopted an historic international climate agreement at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015. The INDCs are publicly outlined post-2020 climate actions countries intend to take under the agreement.

The climate actions communicated in these INDCs largely determine whether the world achieves the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement: to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C, to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C, and to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of this century.

The rallying cry of AOSIS has been “1.5 to Stay Alive”, saying it represents a level of global warming beyond which many vulnerable small island states will be overwhelmed by severe climate impacts.

The scientific findings based on low-emission scenarios (also examined by the IPCC in its fifth assessment report) show that it is both physically and economically feasible to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees C by 2100, after temporarily exceeding 1.5 degrees C in the 2050s (but still staying well below 2 degrees C).

Binger said holding warming below 2 degrees C requires early and rapid action with the level of action in the next ten years very similar to 1.5 degrees C. By 2030, action towards 1.5 degrees C needs to be faster than for 2 degrees C, he said.

“So, if you have a lot of carbon, what are you going to do with it? We keep emitting carbon and now we are reaching a stage where we just basically can’t emit anymore because there is no space for it if we are going to stay in temperatures that we can survive,” Binger said.

With an average global temperature increase of under 1 degree C, small islands have already experienced impacts including severe coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, marine habitat degradation, and power tropical storms.

Binger explained that limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees C by 2100 requires a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by 70 to 95 percent relative to 2010 levels by 2050. This is significantly deeper than the 40 to 70 percent by 2050 for 2 degrees C.

Total greenhouse gas emissions have to reach global zero by 2060 to 2080 for 1.5 degrees C compared to 2080 to 2100 for 2 degrees C.

“If we have to decarbonise and we have to go to zero carbon fuels, then the only carbon we could actually burn would be some portion of what we sequester,” Binger said.

In November 2009, Guyana made a deal with Norway, which agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over the course of five years if Guyana maintained its low deforestation rate. It was the first time a developed country conscious of its own carbon-dioxide emissions had paid a developing country to keep its trees in the ground.

Under the initiative, developed by the United Nations and called REDD+ (for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus conservation), Guyana can continue logging as long as biodiversity is protected.

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the region and officials have been banking on the production of oil, expected to begin around 2020, to turn around the economy.

Early rough estimates by experts of how much recoverable oil Guyana could have range to more than four billion barrels, which at current prices would be worth more than 200 billion dollars.

Binger could not comment on what advice, if any, Guyana might be receiving from AOSIS or the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

“I don’t know what AOSIS is saying to them. I guess AOSIS is maybe saying, ‘nice you have oil, but we are trying to get rid of carbon so we don’t know why you are trying to find more’,” Binger said.

“There are quite a few reports out that we can’t burn a lot of the hydrocarbons, so what’s down there will have to stay down there unless they are going to use it to make things like plastic, chemicals, fertilizers. Anything that is going to be a combustion project is going to have issues with basically how much more carbon we emit relative to where we need to be to stabilize global climate,” he added.

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“Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030.”

3 March 2017 - 10:26am

Women are working in construction in Rio de Janeiro. Credit:Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Yayi Bayam Diouf became the first woman to fish in her small rural fishing village in Senegal despite initially being told by the men in her community that the fish wouldn’t take bait from a menstruating woman. When she started practicing law, Ann Green, CEO of ANZ Lao, was asked to make coffee or pick up dry cleaning (by men and women), simply because she was a young woman. The difficulties faced by Yayi and Ann in entering the labour force and at the workplace are not only unique to them, but sadly is the reality for many women across the globe.

These difficulties represent violations of women’s human rights to work and their rights at work with gender-discriminatory laws still in existence in 155 countries, resulting in the gender wage gap of 23 percent globally. Also, women represent 75 percent of informal employment, in low-paid and undervalued jobs that are usually unprotected by labour laws, and lack social protection.

Only half of women participate in the labour force compared to three quarters of men, and in most developing countries it is as low as 25 percent. Women spend 2.5 times more time and effort than men on unpaid care work and household responsibilities. All of this results in women taking home 1/10 of the global income, while accounting for 2/3 of global working hours. These inequalities have devastating immediate and long-terms negative impacts on women who have a lower lifetime income, have saved less, and yet face higher overall retirement and healthcare costs due to a longer life expectancy.

Women’s economic empowerment is about transforming the world of work, which is still very patriarchal and treats the equal voice, participation and leadership of women as an anomaly, tokenism, compartment or add on. Despite recognizing progress, structural barriers continue to hinder progress towards women’s economic empowerment globally.

Women in all professions face what we call sticky floors, leaking pipelines and broken ladders, glass ceilings and glass walls! At the current pace, it may take 170 years to achieve economic equality among men and women – according to estimates from the World Economic Forum’s latest Gender Gap Report. This is simply unacceptable.

To accelerate the move to a planet 50/50 in women’s economic empowerment and work will require a transformation of both the public and private sector environments and world of work they create for women and also how they change it to make it a women’s space of productive and fulfilling work.

It will mean adopting necessary laws, policies and special measures by governments. It means their actively regulating and providing incentives to companies and enterprises to become gender equal employers, supply chains and incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, together with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (on financing for development), position gender equality and the empowerment of women as critical and essential drivers for sustainable development. There is a Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality (Goal 5) which seeks to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ and sets out global targets to address many of the remaining obstacles to gender inequality.

The framework recognizes women’s economic empowerment as essential enabler and beneficiary of gender equality and sustainable development and a means of implementation of all the six targets of SDG 5, including ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls; ending all forms of violence and harmful practices like child marriage: recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family; ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life; and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Achieving these targets would have a multiplier effect across all other development areas, including ensuring equal access to decent work and full and productive employment (SDG 8), ending poverty (SDG-1), food security (SDG-2), universal health (SDG-3), quality education (SDG-4) and reducing inequalities (SDG-10).

The upcoming 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) will consider “Women’s Economic Empowerment in The Changing World of Work”, as its priority theme providing the international community the opportunity to define concrete, practical and action-oriented recommendations to overcome the structural barriers to gender equality, gender-based discrimination and violence against women at work.

We live in a world where change is happening constantly, presenting new challenges and opportunities to the realization of women’s economic empowerment. The innovations – especially in digital and information and communications technologies, mobility and informality are also increasing rapidly. Emerging areas, such as the green economy and climate change mitigation and adaptation offer new opportunities for decent work for women.

Also, in the context of new digital and information technologies, it is estimated that women will lose five jobs for every job gained compared with men losing three jobs for every job gained in the fourth industrial revolution. Successful harnessing of technological innovations is an imperative as is women’s STEM education and capability building, financial and digital inclusion for the realization of women’s economic empowerment.

Achievement of women’s economic empowerment, as well its related benefits, requires transformative and structural change. In his report on the priority theme of CSW61, the Secretary-General of the United Nations identifies are four concrete action areas in achieving women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, including strengthening normative and legal frameworks for full employment and decent work for all women at all levels; implementing economic and social policies for women’s economic empowerment; addressing the growing informality of work and mobility of women workers and technology driven changes; and strengthening private sector role in women’s economic empowerment.

Progress must be provided from both the demand and supply sides of the labour market. From the demand side, the enhancement of capacity building and the creation of a value chain of education skills and training for women is key to accelerating change.

This will in turn lead to decent work opportunities as well as productive employment for women. From the supply side, there must be a creation of an enabling environment for women to be recruited, retained and promoted in the work place, including through promoting policies to manage trade and financial globalization.

These forces, profoundly altering the world of work should come as a benefit to women and the working poor in rural and urban areas; and macroeconomic and labour market policies must create decent jobs, protect worker rights, and generate living wages, including for informal and migrant women workers.

Enhanced interventions to tackle persistent gender inequalities and gaps in the world of work, and stepped-up attention to technological and digital changes to ensure they become vehicles for women’s economic empowerment are needed. The creation of quality paid care economy is also pivotal in employment creation and in empowering at least a billion women- directly and indirectly as well as providing much needed jobs for all!

Transformative change is not only possible but it would generate tremendous dividends for the economy. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, if women were to play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

Moreover, the total value of unpaid care and domestic work, dominated by women, is estimated to be between 10 and 39 per cent of national GDPs, and can surpass that of manufacturing, commerce, transportation and other key sectors. With women’s economic empowerment the global economy can therefore yield inclusive growth that generates decent work for all and reduces poverty ensuring that no one is left behind.

With the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the tectonic shift in the way that gender equality and women’s economic empowerment has been prioritized and valued in the international development agenda and express the resolve that we will all do everything it takes including transformative financing to achieve the ambitious goal of Planet 50/50 in the world of work by 2030.

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.

The Labour Market Is the Key to Equality for Women in Latin America

3 March 2017 - 5:30am

This is an op-ed article by Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). It is part of the special IPS coverage on the occasion of International Women’s Day, celebrated March 8.

By Alicia Bárcena
SANTIAGO, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region in the world where, for the past four decades, states have continuously met to discuss and commit themselves politically to eradicating discrimination and gender inequality and moving towards guaranteeing women the full exercise of their autonomy and human rights.

Since the first Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Havana in 1977, the region has been through years of political, economic, social and cultural changes, which have meant progress for women in the region but which also have shown the persistence of inequality.

We have overcome a number of obstacles, collectively giving rise to exceptional developments. But there is still a wide wage gap in the region, as well as pending issues in terms of sexual and reproductive rights and the challenge of achieving greater political participation for women.

The sustainable development goal involving gender equality, born from the synergy between the Regional Gender Agenda and the 2030 Agenda, leads us to focus our attention and action on the structural basis of inequality in our societies.

In the first place, we look at socio-economic inequality and poverty and the necessary transformation of the prevailing development model towards one that incorporates new patterns of sustainable production and consumption, and of redistribution of wealth, income and time.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 78.1 per cent of employed women work in sectors defined by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as low productivity sectors, which implies lower pay, less contact with technology and innovation, and in many cases poor quality jobs.

The labour market is the master key to equality; the redistribution of income and the guaranteeing of rights begin there. The proportion of women in the labour market has increased in countries in the region. However, in the last 10 years women’s participation in the labour force in the region has remained stagnant around 53 per cent, revealing a ceiling on the incorporation of women in remunerated work.

In its latest studies, ECLAC has shown that a rise in the proportion of women in the labour market would contribute to the reduction of poverty in the region, with paradigmatic cases such as El Salvador, where poverty could be reduced by up to 12 percentage points if more women earned an income.

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena. Credit: Lorenzo Moscia/ECLAC

To understand the barriers that women face it is crucial to analyse two key aspects of economic autonomy. On the one hand, access to their own monetary resources, and on the other hand, the dimension of time use.

In the region, the proportion of women without an income of their own amounts to about 30 per cent; that is to say, one in three women in Latin America and the Caribbean still lack their own source of income. This is without a doubt a great challenge for the autonomy of women who depend on other members of the household to satisfy their needs and those of their families.

Moreover, 26 per cent of women over 15 earn less than the minimum wage. As a result, more than half of the women in the region either have no income of their own or earn so little that real economic autonomy is impossible.

Proposals such as a universal basic income or the enforcement of a minimum wage in certain female-dominated sectors which today have no legal protection are tools that would boost women’s access to their own income.

With respect to time use, it has been demonstrated that women across the region invariably have a larger total workload than men. The traditional sexual division of labour, very marked in the region, assigns non-remunerated work mainly to women, and makes it virtually their exclusive responsibility.

This is one of the main obstacles for women to join the labour market and have access to personal and professional development. The reduction of the workday and policies to promote shared responsibility in care-giving are tools that could modify and help balance the current inequality in the workload between women and men.

Along with indicators on time use, putting a monetary value on housework and unpaid caregiving in the household and including it in the national accounts has been a powerful tool for making women’s contribution to national economies visible.

Estimates indicate that the value of unpaid work represented 24.2 per cent of Mexico’s GDP in 2014, 20.4 per cent of Colombia’s GDP in 2012, 18.8 per cent of Guatemala’s GDP in 2014, and 15.2 per cent of Ecuador’s GDP in 2012.

Figures reveal that if unpaid housework and caregiving was given a market value, approximately one-fifth of the wealth quantified in the national accounts would be produced in the households, mainly by women.

This information clearly points to the need to design public policies aimed at achieving equality, which recognise women’s contribution to the economy through unpaid work and promote shared responsibility and a more equitable distribution of the workload.

What are needed are public policies to avoid reproducing gender stereotypes, taking into account the different roles that women play, and strengthening their insertion in the labour market and their professional development at the highest level, to capitalise on their training and skills in sectors of higher productivity. This would undermine the foundations of the horizontal and vertical segmentation that characterises the labour market for women today.

In October 2016, the governments gathered at the XIII Regional Conference on Women agreed to implement the Montevideo Strategy and put into effect the premises established in previous agreements, and to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals included in the 2030 Agenda.

This synergy raises the challenge of implementing gender equality as a key cross-cutting component of every public policy, in pursuit of fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.

The time has come for a shift in the gender paradigm in our countries, to put an end to patriarchal society. It is time to pave the way for equality in all its forms and in all possible scenarios, to respect and view women beyond our gender, for all our capabilities and for our continuous struggle for the construction of a more just and equitable society, not just for all women, but for everyone.

Half a Century of Struggle Against Underdevelopment

3 March 2017 - 5:00am

This oped was written by the Argentinian journalist Pablo Piacentini, cofounder of IPS to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the agency. IPS is republishing it now to celebrate his life. Piacentini passed away in Rome on March 1.

By Pablo Piacentini
ROME, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

The idea of creating Inter Press Service (IPS) arose in the early 1960s in response to awareness that a vacuum existed in the world of journalism, which had two basic aspects.

Firstly, there was a marked imbalance in international information sources. World news production was concentrated in the largest industrialised countries and dominated by a few powerful agencies and syndicates in the global North.

By contrast, there was a lack of information about developing countries in the South and elsewhere; there was hardly any information about their political, economic and social realities, except when natural disasters occurred, and what little was reported was culturally prejudiced against these countries. In other words, not much of an image and a poor image at that.A journalist specialised in development issues must be able to look at and analyse information and reality from the “other side.” In spite of globalisation and the revolution in communications, this “other side” continues to be unknown and disregarded, and occupies a marginal position in the international information universe

Secondly, there was an overall shortage of analysis and explanation of the processes behind news events and a lack of in-depth journalistic genres such as features, opinion articles and investigative journalism among the agencies.

Agencies published mainly ‘spot’ news, that is, brief pieces with the bare news facts and little background. Clearly this type of journalism did not lend itself to covering development-related issues.

When reporting an epidemic or a catastrophe in a Third World country, spot news items merely describe the facts and disseminate broadcast striking images. What they generally do not do is make an effort to answer questions such as why diseases that have disappeared or are well under control in the North should cause such terrible regional pandemics in less developed countries, or why a major earthquake in Los Angeles or Japan should cause much less damage and fewer deaths than a smaller earthquake in Haiti.

Superficiality and bias still predominate in international journalism.

While it is true that contextualised analytical information started to appear in the op-ed (“opposite the editorial page”) section of Anglo-Saxon newspapers, the analysis and commentary they offered concentrated on the countries of the North and their interests.

Today the number of op-eds that appear is much greater than in the 1960s, but the predominant focus continues to be on the North.

This type of top-down, North-centred journalism served the interests of industrialised countries, prolonging and extending their global domination and the subordination of non-industrialised countries that export commodities with little or no added value.

This unequal structure of global information affected developing countries negatively. For example, because of the image created by scanty and distorted information, it was unlikely that the owners of expanding businesses in a Northern country would decide to set up a factory in a country of the South.

After all, they knew little or nothing about these countries and, given the type of reporting about them that they were accustomed to, assumed that they were uncivilised and dangerous, with unreliable judicial systems, lack of infrastructure, and so on.

Obviously, few took the risk, and investments were most frequently North-North, reinforcing development in developed countries and underdevelopment in underdeveloped countries.

Pablo Piacentini

In the 1960s, those of us who created IPS set ourselves the goal of working to correct the biased, unequal and distorted image of the world projected by international agencies in those days.

Political geography and economics were certainly quite different then. Countries like Brazil, which is now an emerging power, used to be offhandedly dismissed with the quip: “It’s the country of the future – and always will be.”

At the time, decolonisation was under way in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Latin America was politically independent but economically dependent. The Non-Aligned Movement was created in 1961.

IPS never set out to present a “positive” image of the countries of the South by glossing over or turning a blind eye to the very real problems, such as corruption. Instead, we wished to present an objective view, integrating information about the South, its viewpoints and interests, into the global information media.

This implied a different approach to looking at the world and doing journalism. It meant looking at it from the viewpoint of the realities of the South and its social and economic problems.

Let me give an example which has a direct link to development.

The media tend to dwell on what they present as the negative consequences of commodity price rises: they cause inflation, are costly for consumers and their families, and distort the world economy. Clearly, this is the viewpoint of the industrialised countries that import cheap raw materials and transform them into manufactured goods as the basis for expanding their businesses and competing in the global marketplace.

It is true that steep and sudden price increases for some commodities can create problems in the international economy, as well as affect the population of some poor countries that have to import these raw materials.

But generalised and constant complaints about commodities price increases fail to take into account the statistically proven secular trend towards a decline in commodity prices (with the exception of oil since 1973) compared with those of manufactured goods.

IPS’s editorial policy is to provide news and analyses that show how, in the absence of fair prices and proper remuneration for their commodities, and unless more value is added to agricultural and mineral products, poor countries reliant on commodity exports cannot overcome underdevelopment and poverty.

Many communications researchers have recognised IPS’s contribution to developing a more analytical and appropriate journalism for focusing on and understanding economic, social and political processes, as well as contributing to greater knowledge of the problems faced by countries of the South.

Journalists addressing development issues need, in the first place, to undertake critical analysis of the content of news circulating in the information arena.

Then they must analyse economic and social issues from the “other point of view”, that of marginalised and oppressed people, and of poor countries unable to lift themselves out of underdevelopment because of unfavourable terms of trade, agricultural protectionism, and so on.

They must understand how and why some emerging countries are succeeding in overcoming underdevelopment, and what role can be played by international cooperation.

They also need to examine whether the countries of the North and the international institutions they control are imposing conditions on bilateral or multilateral agreements that actually perpetuate unequal development.

World economic geography and politics may have changed greatly since the 1960s, and new information technologies may have revolutionised the media of today, but these remain some important areas in which imbalanced and discriminatory news treatment is evident.

In conclusion, a journalist specialised in development issues must be able to look at and analyse information and reality from the “other side.” In spite of globalisation and the revolution in communications, this “other side” continues to be unknown and disregarded, and occupies a marginal position in the international information universe.

An appreciation of the true dimensions of the above issues, the contrast between them and the information and analysis we are fed daily by the predominant media virtually all over the world – not only in the North, but also many by media in the South – leads to the obvious conclusion that there is a crying need for unbiased global journalism to help correct North-South imbalance.

To this arduous task and still far-off goal, IPS has devoted its wholehearted efforts over the past half century.

Pablo Piacentini, born in Buenos Aires, cofounded IPS-Inter Press Service in 1964. Having served as Editorial Director, Chief Editor and then Director of the Economics Service, until six months ago Piacentini headed the IPS Columnist Service.

 

Seven Scaring Facts About Widening Gender Gap

3 March 2017 - 1:28am

A resident of Rabaable village in Somalia fetches water with the help of her daughters. The villages well was recently rehabilitated by UNICEF. Credit: UNICEF Somalia/Sebastian Rich

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Women across the globe are facing new threats, which risk dismantling decades of hard-won rights and derailing the effort to end extreme poverty, an international confederation of civil society organisations has revealed ahead of International Women’s Day pm March 8.

The renewal of the global gag rule restricting US funding for family planning services is the latest of a number of new threats that will have a huge effect on the world’s poorest women, OXFAM international on March 2 warned in its new report ‘An economy that works for women‘.

It comes as progress towards women’s equality risks going into reverse, something that will make it impossible for world leaders to end extreme poverty by 2030, it adds.

“At current rates, the time it will take to close the 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women stands at 170 years – 52 years longer than it would have done just a year ago. And, over the past five years, donor funding directly to women’s rights organisations has more than halved. All of this risks putting women’s rights in reverse.“
“Women still carry out between two to 10 times more unpaid care work than men,” OECD

On this, the Head of Oxfam’s Even It Up campaign, Deepak Xavier, said that across the world, many of the basic human rights women have secured over the last few decades are at risk.

“Everyone has a part to play in ensuring this rollback on women’s rights does not happen. Recognizing that women and girls are equal to men and boys is crucial in the fight against poverty and inequality.”

The new Oxfam’s report launched on March 2, ‘An economy that works for women‘, outlines the importance of paid work as a vital route out of poverty for women.

Yet gender inequality in the economy is now back to where it stood in 2008 and millions of women around the world continue to face low wages, a lack of decent, secure jobs and a heavy and unequal responsibility for unpaid care work, such as housework and childcare, OXFAM reports.

“Even in countries where the distribution is the most equal, it is estimated that women still carry out at least twice as much unpaid care work than men with an estimated global value of 10 trillion dollars per year – more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.”

Rural women: a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Credit: FAO


“Studies also show that inequality in economic terms costs women in developing countries 9 trillion dollars a year; a sum that would not only benefit women but would unlock new spending power for their families and produce a boost to the economy as a whole.”

This International Women’s Day, OXFAM calls for people around the world to stand up for women’s equal right to safe, decent, fairly paid work and a world free from the injustice of poverty.

Seven Key Facts

The international aid confederation reports the following facts about the widening gender inequality:

1. Up to 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women according to the International Labour Organization’s ‘Women at Work: Trends 2016’.

2. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 estimates it will now take 170 years to close the 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women and gender inequality in the economy is now back to where it stood in 2008.

3. The global value of women’s unpaid care work each year is estimated at 10 trillion dollars according to McKinsey Global Institute report 2015.

4. The Global GDP in 2015 is estimated by the CIA World Factbook as 75.73 trillion dollars at the official exchange rate.

5. Up to 9 trillion dollars – annual cost of economic inequality to women in developing countries according to Action Aid’s Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work report.

6. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) estimates that women still carry out between two to 10 times more unpaid care work than men: OECD stat Employment: ‘Time spent in paid and unpaid work, by sex.

7. On average in Asia women earn between 70 to 90 per cent of what men earn and carry out around 2.5 times the amount of unpaid care work that men do.

Women still carry out at least twice as much unpaid care work than men, OXFAM reports, adding that the current broken economic model, which is undermining gender equality and causing extreme economic inequality, urges the need for an economy that works for women.

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From El Nino Drought to Floods, Zimbabwe’s Double Trouble

2 March 2017 - 8:05pm

Even luxury homes in the Zimbabwean capital Harare were not spared by the raging floods of early 2017, perpetuating hunger in the Southern African nation after El Nino ravaged crops nationwide. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Dairai Churu, 53, sits with his chin cupped in his palms next to mounds of rubble from his destroyed makeshift home in the Caledonia informal settlement approximately 30 kilometers east of Harare, thanks to the floods that have inundated Zimbabwe since the end of last year.

Churu’s tragedy seems unending. From 2015 to mid-2016, the El Nino-induced drought also hit him hard, rendering his entire family hungry.“We are homeless, we are hungry. I don’t know what else to say.” -- farmer Dairai Churu

“I farm here. I have always planted maize here. All my crops in 2015 were wiped out by the El Nino heat and this year came the floods, which also suffocated all my maize and it means another drought for me and my family,” Churu told IPS.

Churu, his wife and four children now share a plastic tent which they erected after their makeshift three-room home was destroyed by the floods in February this year.

“We are homeless, we are hungry. I don’t know what else to say,” Churu said.

Zimbabwe has not been spared the severe droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded in the country’s history, which have left nearly 100 million people in Southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages and vulnerable to diseases, including the Zika virus, according to UN bodies and international aid agencies.

With drought amidst the floods across many parts of this Southern African nation, the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) has been on record in the media here saying most Zimbabwean urban residents are relying on urban agriculture for sustenance owing to poverty.

PRFT is a civil society organisation that brings together non-governmental organisations, government, the private sector and academics here in Zimbabwe to discuss poverty issues and advocate for pro-poor policies.

Even government has been jittery as floods rocked the entire nation.

“Not all people are going to harvest enough this year. The floods have come with their own effects, drowning crops that many had planted and anticipated bumper harvests. Some greater part of the population here will certainly need food aid as they already face hunger,” a senior government official in Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Ministry told IPS on condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

For the mounting floods here, experts have also piled the blame on the after-effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon.

“El Niño conditions, which are a result of a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years. This year’s floods, which are a direct effect of the El Nino weather, are the worst in 35 years and are now even worsening and bearing impacts on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries like Zimbabwe,” Eldred Nhemachema, a meteorological expert based in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, told IPS.

Consequently, this Southern African nation this year declared a national emergency, as harvests here face devastation from the floods resulting in soaring food prices countrywide, according to the UN World Food Programme.

The UN-WFP has also been on record reporting that Zimbabwe’s staple maize crop of 742,000 tonnes is down 53 percent from 2014-15, according to data from the Southern African Development Community.

The floods have prompted Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate to recommend that a state of disaster be declared in the country’s southern provinces, where one person was killed by the floods while hundreds were marooned by raging rivers that swept away homes and animals.

For instance, this year’s floods in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province left 300 pupils marooned at Lundi High School, leaving mostly girls stranded after the Runde River burst its banks and flooded dormitories. About 100 homesteads were also hit by the floods in the country’s Chivi, Bulilima and Mberengwa districts, according to the country’s Civil Protection Unit.

Based on this year’s February update from the country’s Department of Civil Protection, at least 117 people died since the beginning of the rainy season in October last year.

And for many Zimbabweans like Churu, who were earlier hit by the El Nino-induced drought, it is now double trouble.

“We already have no crops surviving thanks to the floods, yet we have had our crops destroyed by El Nino the previous year, and so suffering continues for us, with drought in the midst of floods. It hurts,” Churu said.

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Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund Calls for Project Proposals for 2017

2 March 2017 - 12:47pm

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2017 (IPS)

The Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund (PGTF), which has been funding small scale projects in developing countries since 1983, is calling for new project proposals on an April 30 deadline.

The Fund has so far supported 291 projects with a total allocation of $13.7 million benefiting 127 developing countries as direct participants/beneficiaries in PGTF-supported projects and 141 developing countries as collective participants/beneficiaries.

In a letter to the New York-based Permanent Missions of developing nations, the PGTF says the maximum amount of support available for any given project in 2017 will be US$35,000.

Prospective applicants should fully fill in the mandatory project proposal model format and summary checklist in any of the working languages of the Group of 77 (Arabic, English, French and Spanish).

Applications that are not submitted fully in compliance with the requirement of the model format and summary checklist will not be considered.

In the case of nationally executed projects, applications should be accompanied by letters of endorsement from the countries that will benefit directly and/or participate in the activities of this project. Such endorsement letters should contain a clear indication of the institution, as well as name, position and signature of the person providing the endorsement.

In the case of project proposals submitted by institutions (e.g., non-governmental organizations, regional and sub-regional organizations, etc.), a copy of the relevant decision of the respective governing bodies and countries involved in the project should be provided.

The letter advises applicants to familiarize themselves with the Guidelines for Utilization of PGTF before preparing and submitting a funding application.

Applications should be delivered to the following mailing address:

Executive Secretariat of the Group of 77
United Nations Secretariat Building
Room S-0518
New York, NY 10017
United States of America

A copy of the application may also be submitted electronically to the following email address: secretariat@g77.org

The objective of the PGTF is to provide seed money for (i) financing pre-investment/feasibility studies/reports prepared by professional consultancy organizations in developing countries members of the Group of 77; and (ii) facilitating the implementation of projects within the framework of the Caracas Programme of Action on ECDC.

The list of eight priority areas set in the guidelines, as spelled out in the Caracas Programme of Action, include trade; technology; food and agriculture; energy; raw materials; finance; industrialization and technical cooperation among developing countries; plus in the Havana Programme of Action, South-South cooperation, mainly in areas relating to education, health and environment.

Women’s Rights Activists: “Nevertheless, We Persist”

2 March 2017 - 11:40am

The theme of the 2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women will be economic empowerment. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2017 (IPS)

Human rights groups have expressed concern for the future of global negotiations on women’s rights in a climate of restrictive policies ahead of an upcoming annual UN meeting on the status of women.

While discussing the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organisations highlighted the importance of intersectionality in the discussion of women’s rights and implementation of relevant social and economic policies, referring to the importance of considering the many different ways that women can be marginalised.

“You need to look at issues of education, issues of mobility, issues of violence in the workplace, issues of sexual and reproductive rights of women…as a precursor to employment,” said President of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) Françoise Girard.

Negotiations have begun to create an outcome document for the CSW, whose main theme for 2017 is women’s economic empowerment.

“We feel very strongly that you cannot talk about women in a world of work globally without looking at the other factors that keep women from decent work,” Girard told IPS.

However, the initial draft failed to address these issues adequately with no mention of girls’ access to education or young women’s access to reproductive health care, she said.

“If women don’t have access to education or ethnic minorities are discriminated in the school system…or [lack] the ability to control their fertility and reproductive health…that will have a huge impact on their ability to be in paid work,” Girard told IPS.

Co-Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) Eleanor Blomstrom also noted the “disappointing” lack of language around climate change.

“If we don’t address [climate change], then we don’t have a planet on which to live where women can exercise their full rights,” she said during a press conference.

Girard and Blomstrom also expressed alarm at the implementation of policies that further restrict women’s rights and thus economic empowerment.

The global gag rule, reinstated by the Trump administration, forbids non-governmental organisations receiving U.S. global health funding from working on issues around abortion regardless of other sources of funding. It also blocks recipients from participating in any national discussions on abortion.

Under the Bush administration, the policy only applied to family planning funds. This is the first time the condition has been applied to all global health assistance which makes up USD 9.5 billion, including funding for HIV and maternal health.

Girard cited the example of Kenyan organisation Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) which receives approximately USD 200,000 to provide a range of reproductive health services including the treatment of postpartum haemorrhage. However, they are now left in a precarious position of whether or not to limit their services.

“Now they are having to choose—they cannot provide comprehensive health care anymore if they accept U.S. government funding, but they don’t want to stop training providers for postpartum haemorrhage,” said Girard.

Girard and Blomstrom noted that including such intersections of women’s issues in the CSW outcome document will help pave the way for governments to implement longer-term, detailed plans that allow for positive development opportunities and outcomes for women.

And there has been some progress, they added, with governments contributing to a new draft that views women’s participation in the world of work in a more holistic manner.

The new draft has thus far pulled language from the Paris Climate Change Agreement to address the intersections between women’s economic empowerment and environmental and climate change concerns, and highlighted the “crucial” need for men and boys to share household work and work towards a fair division of labor.

“I am pleasantly surprised at this early stage that there is real recognition (of these issues),” Girard said.

She also noted the important mobilisation around the world for and after the Women’s March on Washington which saw millions of protestors gather for women’s rights.

“I see the energy is very high, people are mobilised, the actions are continuing and we’re not going away, we’re not going back,” Girard told IPS.

The organisers of the Women’s March have planned a women’s strike on March 8, which also falls on International Women’s Day.

“In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women’s March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognising the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity,” the organisers state.

And in that same spirit and despite the potential disagreements that are expected to occur as CSW negotiations proceed, “nevertheless, we persist,” said Girard and Blomstrom.

The term is a play on words after U.S. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, said ““She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” in reference to U.S. Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, after Warren was told to stop reading out loud a letter by Coretta Scott King – the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. – earlier this month.csw

Governments and civil society from around the world will be convening for CSW at the UN Headquarters in NY from 13 to 24 March to discuss and implement plans to promote women’s rights.

“Women in the UN Working Together to Improve the Lives of Women Worldwide”

2 March 2017 - 4:35am

Credit: FAO_Cote d'Ivoire

By Chitra Deshpande
ROME, Mar 2 2017 (IPS)

This International Women’s Day we celebrate women in the changing world of work, recognizing the need to fully realize women’s working potential in order to achieve Agenda 2030. We know that when women earn money, they spend it on feeding their families and educating their children. It is estimated that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

Women worldwide carry the double burden of domestic labor and income-generating work outside the household. Despite working typically 12-13 hours per week more than men in developing countries in Africa and Asia, working women usually go unrecognized. Women in rural areas spend more of their time on domestic chores such as collecting water and firewood, preparing food, transporting goods and caring for children, the elderly and sick. They also work on family farms – spending on average three hours more per day than men on unpaid agricultural work. Equitable access to decent employment opportunities for women is critical to the well-being of their families and communities. Yet most rural women are either unpaid family workers, self-employed or hold precarious jobs for low pay.

In the United Nations, many women are committed to removing the barriers that women face in developing countries. The Joint-Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE) is one example of how women from different UN agencies – FAO, IFAD, UN Women and WFP – are securing rural women’s livelihoods and rights in seven countries. Through the efforts of many women and men, but particularly – Clare Bishop-Sambrook and Beatrice Gerli of IFAD, Susan Kaaria and Libor Stloukal in FAO, Venge Nyirongo of UN Women, Veronique Sainte-Luce of WFP, and Azzurra Chiarini the Global Coordinator – RWEE has supported over 22,500 women and their households by enabling 2,150 women to access financial services; 5,200 to receive business development support; and training almost 4,000 women in improved agricultural technologies. As a smallholder farmer in Nepal, Chandra Kala Thapa faces many barriers to improving her agricultural productivity and income. RWEE provided her with seeds, fertilizers and equipment, and helped her access credit. Engaging the men in the community has resulted in Chandra’s husband helping her with the household work and farming. The increased income from diversifying her crops to fruits and vegetables has allowed her to educate her sons and pay for medical care. As President of her Women’s Farmers’ Group, Chandra also brings women together to find solutions to farming and family problems.

Credit: IFAD_Nepal


Rural women often work under conditions that are hazardous to their health. In Cote d’Ivoire, as in much of West Africa, women smoke fish in poorly ventilated rooms. Traditional smoking releases carcinogenic contaminants that lead to respiratory, eye and other health problems for women and their children. With the expertise of Yvette Diei-Ouadi, FAO Fishery Industry Officer and the support of Oumoul Khairy Ndiaye, from FAO’s office in Burkina Faso, FAO collaborated with the National Training Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Technicians in Senegal to develop the Thiaroye or FTT fish smoking technology – a system consisting of a dual-function oven and mechanical drier. This was designed to help small-scale fish processors, who are mainly women, prepare and market safe, high-quality food. According to Dion Somplehi, President of a cooperative of women fish processors and fish mongers, “We have seen the advantage of saving time in fish smoking and this is really important because in our communities, women are at the same time engaged in household chores – taking care of children, working in the kitchen – while carrying out fish processing activities.” The FTT oven also improved the quality of Ivorian smoked fish to meet the high food safety requirements of the European Union.

Theresa Panuccio, at childcare centre of FAO headquarters. Credit: FAO

When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community. Therefore, to fully unlock a woman’s potential, it is critical to include her family. IFAD uses household methodologies to promote equitable intra-household relations and shared decision-making. In IFAD-funded projects in Uganda, originally led by the Country Programme Manager Marian Bradley with the support of IFAD’s gender team, the household mentoring approach was used to assist Biribawa, a married woman with nine children, who struggled to support her family. A trained mentor helped Biribawa and her family formulate a vision and outline the steps to achieve it. Today her children are in school and, through improved farming and mat weaving, they have realized the family vision to build a permanent house.

In order for women working in the UN to help women in developing countries, they also need a supportive work environment to take care of their own families. In her former positions at FAO and IFAD, Theresa Panuccio was instrumental in establishing on-site child-care centres which improved women’s work-life balance. As we know from our projects, on-site child care can significantly improve women’s productivity by reducing absenteeism and the travel time to collect children.

Women worldwide are daughters, mothers, and wives as well as workers – farmers, entrepreneurs, laborers and experts. To unleash our full potential, we need to join together and support one another to care for our families and perform our jobs to the benefit of our communities, societies and countries.

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