FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Tuesday:  November 25, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Women (17)

Tuesday
Jul092013

Great Lakes women leaders meet in Burundi (NEWS) 

(PHOTO: A woman with her baby leaves Ngululu, 80km NW of Goma, DR Congo after the village & others nearby were attacked & burnt by members of the Congo Defence Front./NATION MEDIA GROUP)

(HN, 7/9/2013) - A three-day conference bringing together 100 women leaders from across the Great Lakes region is set to start in Bujumbura on Tuesday.  The Burundi meeting aims to develop a road map for the engagement of women in peace processes.

The conference, which has been organized by the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region in Africa, Mary Robinson, in partnership with Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

It is also expected to look at ways of implementing the “Peace, Security and Cooperation” (PSC) Framework and the United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in the Great Lakes Region.

The PSC Framework is a milestone in national, regional and international efforts to bring peace in the Great Lakes region and in particular in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where sexual violence continues at appalling levels and is regularly used as a weapon of war.

The framework was signed on February 24 by 11 African countries and was the fruit of a concerted effort between the UN, ICGLR, the South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

(PHOTO: Mary Robinson at the WEF, 2013)The conference will also consolidate an integrated regional approach for the effective participation of women in conflict resolution and peace building through the implementation of a Regional Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 in the Great Lakes region.

“A common plan will help to ensure that women’s voices are heard “from the bottom up and adhered to and implemented by Governments from the top down,” Ms. Mary Robinson, the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region in Africa, said in a statement.

- This article was originally published in the Africa Review and was written by Sandra Chao in Nairobi, Kenya.

Thursday
Nov082012

World leaders praise Julia Gillard's sexism speech at ASEM - (REPORT) 

(Video ABCNEWS Australia)

(HN, November 8, 2012) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous misogyny speech in parliament last month is still creating waves abroad, with the prime minister congratulated by other world leaders during an international summit.

Ms. Gillard says French President Francois Hollande and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, among other leaders, approached her at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Laos to commend the speech, in which she branded Opposition Leader Tony Abbott a misogynist.

The prime minister’s fiery 15-minute address to the Australian parliament early last month went viral worldwide, making news headlines and dominating social media.

“The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the prime minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me,” Ms. Gillard told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Video of Ms Gillard’s outburst was watched more than 300,000 times on YouTube in just one day, and it made headlines in the US, India, Canada, UK and South Africa.

On one prominent American website, Jezebel, Ms. Gillard was described as a “badass motherf****r”.

Interviewed for the latest edition of Marie Claire magazine, the prime minister said her office had been besieged with emails and phone calls after the speech went viral on the internet.

“I’m taking it all with a bit of a wry smile,” she said.

“I’m certainly taking `badass’ as a compliment. I think that’s how it was meant.”

Ms. Gillard said she had heard that a Melbourne all-girls school had watched the speech during a class and “spontaneously broke into cheers and applause at the end of it”.

“So that touched me,” she said.

Ms. Gillard said what motivated her to make the speech was the “double standards and the lecturing” from Mr. Abbott.

-- This article first appeared on the Australian Times website via the AAP.

Tuesday
Oct162012

High food prices top UN agenda on World Food Day (REPORT) 

(Video: World Food Programme)

Rome: Global governance of food security and a so-called new world food order were on the table at World Food Day talks held by the United Nations on Tuesday in the face of drought and high prices.

The United Nations focused the talks in Rome on lowering food prices which have been pushed up by droughts in Australia and the United States and a drop in harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region.

A meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization chaired by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll brought together ministers from 20 countries including major producers and import-dependent developing countries.

“The key is to ensure global governance on food issues,” Le Foll said.  “Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility,” he added.

FAO chief Jose Graziano Da Silva said: “Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term.”

He said new mechanisms for stronger global governance of food security that are being set up were part of “a new world order that needs to emerge.”

(PHOTO: YemenFoxNet)But there were divisions among participants at the meeting, with the United States voicing strong opposition to the proposal of setting up strategic food reserves in particularly vulnerable countries, to be tapped when prices spike.

Graziano Da Silva said establishing reserves could be “an instrument to avoid poor countries paying the price” of price rises — although FAO’s official position is only in favor of setting up “small emergency stocks”.

“If you bolster the size of the stocks, you increase difficulties in terms of costs and management,” said FAO’s David Hallam, who is in charge of markets.

Millions go hungry

Around 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even though gains have been made in recent years when the United Nations estimated 1 billion people on the planet were not getting enough to eat. Still, the number is troubling.

FAO said the talks were aimed at boosting “the effectiveness of measures to address food price volatility and to reduce its impact on the most vulnerable.”

Global food prices rose by 1.4 per cent last month, after holding steady for two months, as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, the FAO said earlier.

The food import bill for poor countries is therefore estimated to rise by 3.7 percentage points from last year to $36.5 billion.

The FAO estimates that about 870 million people in the world - or one in eight humans - suffer from hunger, saying the figure is “unacceptably high” even though it has gone down from more than a billion in the early 1990s.

The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said that figure rises to 1.5 billion people if you include malnourishment which hampers the physical and psychological developments of children.

(PHOTO: Agriaim)When global food prices rise as they are doing now “it is not just that there are fewer meals but the meals are also less varied,” De Schutter said, adding: “This threat is not really seen as a priority but it should be.”

Graziano Da Silva said it was vital to help small farmers as a way of combating hunger and World Food Day events highlighted the crucial role played by farming cooperatives in the developing world.

He underlined the fact that the figure of the number of people suffering from hunger had stopped going down over the past five years.  “The numbers are increasing in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

“We cannot tolerate this in a land of plenty where production is sufficient for everyone,” he said, adding that the funds for aid and agriculture budgets had gone down over the past three decades, stranding small farmers.  “They have had to fight to adapt,” he said.

Graziano Da Silva added that promises made by governments to eradicate hunger made when prices hit record highs in 2007 and 2008 had not been kept.

The non-governmental group Action Against Hunger said that “some 100 million more people have become under-nourished” due to the price rises of 2008.

In a message to mark World Food Day, Pope Benedict hailed cooperatives as “an expression of true subsidiarity” and urged the international community to come up with legal and financial mechanisms to strengthen them.

The pope also emphasized the “vital role” played by women in cooperatives.

- This article appeared in GulfNews.

Tuesday
May222012

Egypt's Historic Presidential Election Is Taking Place (FACTBOX)

 

(Video: VOA reports on Egypt's youth vote)

CAIRO – Egypt is going to polling stations on Wednesday, May 23, in the first free election to pick a replacement for former president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular revolution last year.

Here are some details of the election:

When will the vote take place?

The first round takes place on Wednesday and Thursday, with about 50 million of Egypt's 82 million people eligible to vote.

According to the official schedule, counting will be completed on Saturday, followed by a period for appeals. The first-round result will be formally announced on May 29. If any candidate gains more than 50% of the votes in the first leg, he wins outright. That seems unlikely, so a run-off between the top two vote-getters is expected to go ahead on June 16 and 17, with the result due on June 21.

Turnout was about 60% in the parliamentary election. Some analysts expect that figure to be exceeded in this vote.

Who are the candidates?

(PHOTO: Campaign posters in Cairo/OnIslam)Thirteen candidates entered the race after the election committee disqualified 10 for failing to meet requirements. Among those ejected was Mubarak's former spy chief - and briefly his vice president - Omar Suleiman, as well as a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now fielding reserve candidate Mohamed Mursi. There are now 12 in the race after one withdrew.

The other main contenders are the liberal former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is one of the best-known names in the race, Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Futuh who has appealed to voters ranging from liberals to Salafis; and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander, aviation minister and, in the final days of Mubarak's rule, prime minister. Most other candidates are viewed as well down the field, although leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy has been gaining popularity with his down-to-earth style.

There was one woman in the race - Bothaina Kamel - an Egyptian television anchor, activist, and politician. She is a long time pro-democracy advocate whose professional career has been marked by repeated conflict with authorities. In June 2011 she announced her candidacy for the Egyptian presidency, although she did not receive enough signatures to make the ballot.

Who will win?

Opinion polling is a novelty in Egypt where votes in Mubarak's era were widely rigged and the outcome a foregone conclusion. So the reliability of the widely varying polls published in newspapers is untested. Moussa, Abul-Futuh, Mursi, Shafiq and Sabahy all appear to have a chance of getting into the second round, but the contest is wide open.

How did Egypt choose a president in the past?

(PHOTO: Women clap & chant as presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh enters the conference hall in Cairo, 5/15/2012-VOA)Mubarak, then vice-president, came to power when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Sadat, previously vice-president, had also taken over from Gamal Abdel Nasser when he died in 1970. For most of his three decades in power, Mubarak was confirmed in office by single-candidate referendums. Turnout was usually very low.

In 2005, under US pressure to open up, Egypt staged a multi-candidate election but the rules made it impossible for anyone to stage a realistic challenge. The result, to no one's surprise, was a sweeping victory for Mubarak. He would have faced another election in 2011, when many wondered if he would step down in favor of his son Gamal. But a mass uprising ended Mubarak's rule in February last year and the former president and his two sons are now on trial.

Who will monitor the race?

Some of the pro-democracy groups that witnessed Egypt's parliamentary election have ceased to function because of a judicial crackdown linked to allegations of illegal foreign funding.

Three international groups received licenses to monitor the presidential vote, fewer than in the legislative election. They are the US-based Carter Center, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and an Arab network for election monitoring, alongside several local bodies such as the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Alam Gdeed (New World) and Lessa Shayfenkum (We Are Still Watching You). International monitors said they cannot give a full assessment of the vote when it happens, because they were blocked from witnessing most of the campaign.

-- A version of this article originally appeared at OnIslam.

RELATED: 

Egypt elections: 'Women need a champion'

Off the campaign trail, Egypt's neglected farmers worry about their future

A Little Music Goes a long Way in Egypt Vote

Tuesday
May012012

Sexual Abuse Keeps Girls Away From School in Papua New Guinea (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Teenage girls in Papua New Guinea/WorldBank)By Catherine Wilson

(Goroka, Papua New Guinea) - Sexual harassment of school going girls may prevent Papua New Guinea from achieving the Millennium Development Goal of eliminating gender disparity in education by 2015.

Papua New Guinea’s new free education policy has dramatically increased school enrollment, and a gross enrollment rate of 80 percent is within reach by 2015. But the United Nations’ eight MDGs pertaining to girls’ education remain elusive.

While PNG’s constitution promotes equal participation by men and women in national development, political, cultural, social and infrastructural factors inhibit girls staying in the school system, reflecting a wider lack of women in the formal workforce, governance and decision-making roles.

The United Nations Development Program rates the nation at 153 out of 187 countries in gender equality. The education department reports the average educational attainment of girls is grade 10. On average boys complete high school, reaching grade 12.

However, the nation’s cultural and social diversity means there is geographical variance.

(PHOTO: Teenage girls in Papua New Guinea/MISSIONNET)“The state of school infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, is a significant hindrance to the achievement of equitable education outcomes,” said Arnold Kukari, leader of the universal basic education research program at the National Research Institute.

Betty Hinamunimo, field officer with CARE International, a nongovernmental organization that works in partnership with the education department, said factors impeding girls’ education included “distance and cultural and social barriers, such as the fear families have of sending girls to urban centers where their safety is not guaranteed.”

Girls in PNG are at high risk of domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment in schools, commercial exploitation and HIV, which pose serious threats to their health and education.

Ume Wainetti at the Family Sexual Violence Action Center said, “When FSVAC conducted the study on violence against children in 2005, young girls in rural schools said they get harassed by teachers and by male students, especially when they are going to school or going home.”

Wainetti said many of the young girls interviewed by FSVAC, based in the capital of Port Moresby, were already mothers.

Cultural and social barriers to education include the burden placed on girls of family care, domestic responsibilities and customary marriage, which happens as early as 12 years old. The International Center for Research on Women estimates a third of girls in the developing world are married before 18 years old and have children before they reach 20.

The education department’s plan for decreasing the disparity stresses training staff in gender sensitization and sexual violence awareness.

Philip Afuti, president of the PNG teachers’ association, Eastern Highlands, and head teacher of North Goroka primary school, is committed to gender equality. Eighty percent of teachers are female, while the school has 630 male and 523 female students.

“We want to see the girls have an equal opportunity as boys in the education system,” Afuti declared. “They should be able to build this nation in partnership. We want to see that. PNG will only develop when both males and females are educated.”

This year, the national government rolled out a free and subsidized education policy, which has impacted female enrolment.

“We have increased the numbers of females enrolling,” Afuti verified. “Some who left a few years ago have also come back.”

But there are also inadequate mechanisms of support for school-going girls suffering from sexual abuse.

“If there are avenues for redress to such offences, these are not made known to students and parents,”  Wainetti said.

It is unfortunate that many teachers will not do anything about these abuses until the parents of the girl or boy turn up at the school to beat up the students who have been harassing their child,”  Wainetti said.

 -- This article originally appeared in The Jakarta Globe

Saturday
Apr072012

Malawi Set to Swear in Africa's Only 2nd Female President (NEWS) 

(PHOTO: Chief Justice Lovemore Mulo set to swear in Joyce Banda/Nyasa Times)(HN, 4/7/12) - Chief Justice Lovemore Mulo is set to swear in new Malawi President Joyce Banda after President Bingu wa Mutharika died suddenly of a heart attack Thursday. Banda will make herstory by becoming only the 2nd female president in Africa alongside Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia (2005) & the first woman president of Malawi.  She previously was Malawi's first female Vice President when chosen in 2009. There was some speculation about whether the deceased President's brother Peter Mutharika, the country's Foreign Affairs Minister might take power but the Chief Justice told them it was impossible not to give the post to Banda.  The next general election is scheduled for 2014.  It appears Banda will be sworn in soon. (Read  more at the Nyasa Times

Friday
Apr062012

Malawi's President Dies, Sets Up Possibility of Africa's 2nd Female President (NEWS) 

(PHOTO: Malawi's VP Joyce Banda/Bulawayo24.com)

(HN, 4/6/12) - On Friday it was announced by hospital and government sources that longtime  Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika had died after having a heart attack and collapsing at the nation's State House yesterday morning.

The Nyasa Times, the nation's state newspaper has said that Vice President Joyce Banda will be sworn in as Head of State and is expected to address the nation shortly, though the ruling DPP party has already endorsed the former President's brother Peter Mutharika as their choice for President. 

The constitution says the Vice President is to take over as head of state and even though Banda was booted out of Mutharika's ruling DPP party in 2010 after an argument about succession; though analysts said there would be a smooth transition of power with the army and police respecting  the law of the land.

If Banda takes the Chief Executive spot in the nation she will be only one of two African female leaders - on a continent of 54 nations - along with Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.   Sirleaf was first elected to her nation's highest office in 2005 and has since won re-election in 2011; a year she also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work" along with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen.

(PHOTO: Malawi's deceased President, Bingu wa Mutharika/Wikipedia) Malawi, located in Southeast Africa is a landlocked country formerly known as Nyasaland.  It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi.

MUTHARIKA'S RULE

The 78-year-old Mutharika had been rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe on Thursday but is now said to have been dead on arrival. State media had previously said he had been flown to South Africa for treatment.

Mutharika was the President of Malawi from May 2004 until April 5, 2012. He was also the president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which has a majority in Malawi's parliament as a result of the 2009 general election.

Mutharika's administration presided over a seven-year economic boom that made Malawi one of the world's fastest-growing economies on the African continent - but also led to more authoritative and oppressive rule according to many in the country.

As last night's news broke, few were found to be upset about the President's death.

Many Malawians blamed Mutharika personally for their economic challenges, which stemmed ultimately from a diplomatic spat with former colonial power Britain a year ago. The cause of disagreement was a leaked diplomatic correspondence that claimed Mutharika was being "autocratic and intolerant of criticism" - after which Britain, Malawi's biggest donor froze millions of dollars of aid - exacerbating an already acute struggling economy leading to shortages of fuel, food and medicines.

Malawi's diplomatic isolation worsened in July 2011 when the United States cancelled a $350 million overhaul of the country's antiquated power grid after police killed 20 people in a crackdown on an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests.  Mutharika hit back combatively, telling his supporters last month to "step in and defend their father rather than just sit back and watch him take crap from donors and rights groups".

JOYCE BANDA

Joyce Banda's career has not always been political. She is an educator,  and a grassroots gender rights activist who turned to politics serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2009, as a Member of Parliament and Minister for Gender, Children's Affairs and Community Services.  Additionally she is the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation and of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project.  She came to the country's Vice Presidency in 2009 and is currently the head of the newly created People's Party.

(PHOTO: Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf/Wikipedia) Banda had been thought to be planning a run for the Presidency in the next general election to take place in 2014 - but she might just get her wish now.

ABOUT MALAWI

Malawi is among the world's least-developed countries with an economy heavily based in agriculture, and a largely rural population. The government depends heavily on outside aid to meet development needs, although this need (and the aid offered) has decreased since 2000 forcing the nation to face challenges in building and expanding the economy, improving education, health care, environmental protection, and becoming financially independent. Malawi has several programs developed since 2005 that focus on these issues, and the country's outlook appears to be improving, with improvements in economic growth, education and healthcare seen in 2007 and 2008.

With progress the nation continues to be plagued by a low life expectancy and high infant mortality. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which is a drain on the labor force and government expenditures. There is a diverse population of native peoples, Asians and Europeans, with several languages spoken and an array of religious beliefs. Although there was tribal conflict in the past, by 2008 it had diminished considerably and the concept of a Malawian nationality had begun to form. Malawi has a culture combining native and colonial aspects, including sports, art, dance and music.

There was no official announcement of President Mutharika's death though state media said a statement would be made at midday.

---HUMNEWS

Friday
Mar022012

UN-Leashing the Power of Women (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Kate Holt, IRIN) (HN, March 2, 2012) -- This week, the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women opened on Monday at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It's special focus? The development of `Rural Women'. 

For the next two weeks, leaders - men and women alike - are meeting  to focus on women's visibility, contributions, and empowerment, in poverty and hunger eradication, development, climate change adaptation, conflict resolution, gender inequality, technology and energy access, and ending female genital mutilation and sex slavery.

The session, led by Chile's former President and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, is also preparing the agenda for the UN Rio+20 Conference that Brazil will host in June. The Commission was established by ECOSOC resolution 11, June 21, 1946; just a year after the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945. Of the 160 signatories, only 4 were women - Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), Virginia Gildersleeve (United States), Bertha Lutz (Brazil) and Wu Yi-Fang (China).

(PHOTO: Minerva Bernardino/Archive) The Commission's mandate was expanded in 1987 to include the functions of promoting the objectives of equality, development and peace at the national, sub regional, regional and global levels. Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its program a follow-up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.

45 member states of the UN serve as members of the Commission at any one time. The Commission consists of one representative from each country elected by the Council on the basis of equitable geographical distribution: 13 members from Africa; 11 from Asia; 9 from Latin America and Caribbean; 8 from Western Europe and other States and 4 from Eastern Europe. Members are elected for a period of 4 years(SEE BELOW FOR FULL LIST)

In her opening speech to delegates, UN Deputy Secretary General Aisha-Rose Migiro welcomed attendees from around the world which included government officials, rural women, representatives of the UN and civil society; the media and the private sector to review progress, share experiences, good practices, analyze gaps and agree on actions to empower rural women.

(PHOTO: Opening session of the 56th UN Women's Conference/UN News Centre) Migiro, called for `systematic and comprehensive strategies' to empower women and girls in rural areas as `key agents of change' by maximizing their `potential to combat extreme poverty and hunger for themselves'.   "If rural women had equal access to productive resources", she said, "Agricultural yields would rise and hunger would decline".

Further, "They are leaders, producers, entrepreneurs and service providers, and their contributions are vital to the well-being of families, communities and economies, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals".

World population demographics put the number of women and men in the world as roughly equal (with men just slightly ahead by a few hundred million). The idea is that women are becoming the most effective catalysts of sustainable development, and they must be supported.  

Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), said empowering women, "Requires a transformation in the way governments devise budgets and make and enforce laws, policies and land rights; including trade and agricultural policies, and how businesses invest and operate.  Private sector partnerships are crucial”, she said.

"Let us be clear. This is not just hurting the women.  It is hurting all of us”, said Bachelet.  "It's a matter of human rights, equality and justice on behalf of women.  

According to a UN Women's report released last week, rural women and girls comprise 1 in 4 people worldwide and they constitute a large share of the agricultural workforce.

(PHOTO: UN Multimedia) The gathering squarely noted that not only do women face gender inequality - despite progress; they also face blowback from Mother Nature too. How to bring women online while also creating sustainable solutions is a major focus of the conference.   

Some 86% of the global rural population of both genders derives a livelihood from agriculture,  with an estimated 1.3 billion people engaged in small scale farming or working as `landless laborers'.  Increasingly, almost 70% of agriculture laborers are women, producing the majority of global food grown; while playing key roles in rural economic activities, such as planting crops, saving seeds and selling their produce. Not to mention, performing virtually 100% of household labor.

In South Sudan, women farmers are working with a host of civil society groups like the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Norwegian People's Aid, Catholic Relief Services and Concern Worldwide, organizing themselves to engage in climate-resilient crop production and sustainable pursuits like goat rearing and bee keeping.  The women grow food drought-tolerant crops such as cereals, legumes, sorghum, bulrush or pearl millet and vegetables in order to improve their children’s overall nutrition and bring in a small, market-based income.

In Mexico, rural women have organized themselves to struggle against financial and environmental crises. In many cases, local NGOs have assisted in this process by building formal structures and developing capacities.  39% of Mexican households are rural.

(GRAPH: Poverty in the world, darker is worse/PRB.ORG)But still, generally worldwide, women continue to face lower mobility, less access to training, market information, and financial resources.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, rural women can tap just 5% of the services and facilities  including bank credits, public services, welfare, employment and the market; a mere 3% of the $7.5bn in official allocations for rural advancement and agriculture between 2008-2009 were assigned to gender equity.  Additionally, rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population and while women have equal property ownership rights in 115 countries and have equal inheritance rights in 93, gender disparities in land holdings persist worldwide."

The conference platform posits that if rural women had equal access to productive tools such as seeds, tools, and fertilizer; and laws were loosened -  agricultural yields would rise by up to 4% and there would be 100 million to 150 million fewer hungry people worldwide.  

Mobile is Key

Mobile phones are changing lives and strengthening economic enterprises, providing information about credit, markets, weather updates, transportation or health services - changing the way rural women and men obtain services and conduct business. 

In a recent global survey, 93% of women reported feeling safer because of their mobile phone, 85% reported feeling more independent, and 41% reported having increased income and professional opportunities.

(PHOTO: UNH WC Superhero/UNH) Sisters Doing it For Themselves

Women on the ground in the global South aren't waiting. They are already busy deploying a combination of indigenous techniques and adaptive agricultural methods to stave off the impacts of climate change, and in June on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, UN Women will join the Government of Brazil in convening a high-level meeting on women and sustainable development.

It All Starts With Education

"Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people," the UN said and, "Just 39% of rural girls attend secondary school". Far fewer than rural boys (45%), urban girls (59%) and urban boys (60%).  A lack of a high school education can mean poverty and even earlier death, and even a lack of local schools is a reason fewer girls attend high school. 

"Data from 68 countries indicates that a woman’s education is a key factor in determining a child’s survival," according to UN statistics. "Every additional year of primary school increases girls’ eventual wages by 10–20 percent. It also encourages them to marry later and have fewer children, and leaves them less vulnerable to violence."

(GRAPH: Girls, Women global education levels/PRB.ORG) If Women Ruled The World There Would Be No War

In a study of 24 major peace processes since 1992, UN Women  found that women composed only 2.5% of peace signatories, 3.2% of mediators, 5.5% of witnesses and 7.6% of negotiators.  

War is always most devastating to women and children who are often the victims of rape, abuse, and sexual slavery during and after conflict.   But when women's interests are not represented at the negotiation tables, in the post-resolution restructuring process, or in the governance bodies established after the war, the interests of children and families are almost always omitted from discussions.  The UN recognized this 12 years ago when it voted to "ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels; urging governments to `adopt a `gender perspective'".

For instance, in Egypt, rural women are receiving identity cards so they can obtain social services, and are able to vote and can have a say in shaping the future of their country.  In India, more than a million women are now members of local village councils.  This has changed their lives for the better, and also the lives around them.

(PHOTO: Martine Perret)From Costa Rica to Rwanda, where quotas have been used, more women are in positions of decision-making. They are using their voices to secure land rights, to understand political processes, to engage with governance and policy issues, to tackle domestic violence, to improve healthcare and employment, and to demand accountability.  

But in other parts of the world, a recent study which covered 17 countries in Asia and the Pacific showed that the proportion of elected representatives in rural councils who are women ranged only from 0.6 percent to 37%.

In her speech UN Women's Bachelet pointed the finger at her own organization, the UN too, saying, "Here in the United Nations, we must lead by example. From 2007 through 2010, the UN experienced an unprecedented increase in women at the most senior levels - from 17% to 29% at the Under-Secretary-General level, and from 20% to 25% at the Secretariat at the Assistant Secretary General level".

Last December the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Member States to take concrete steps to increase the political participation and leadership of women, including the follow through on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Labor Organization conventions,  the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the report on the Social Protection Floor, that UN Women launched last year.

(PHOTO: FAO) Still, despite all the progress of the global women's empowerment movement, many conference speakers have lamented the need to `reality-check' the situation by reminding delegates that currently in the world: "925 million people were chronically hungry, of whom 60 percent were women.  Moreover, 884 million people in the world lack access to potable drinking water; 2.6 billion people do not have access to sufficient sanitation facilities; and 1 billion people do not have adequate access to roads and transportation systems."

What future will we leave our children?

The African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) is a bold political initiative that aims to put women at the centre of development on the continent. Launched in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2010, with roots traceable to the UN First World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975. However, the disheartening reality is that very few women in Africa actually know about the Women’s Decade and the policies set out to be implemented during this decade.   

What's clear from this 56th Conference on Women is that women worldwide want change, they want to have their voice be heard, and they are impatient for equality and solutions to their own problems.  Out of sheer survival, many women are taking circumstance into their own hands and making progress despite the world.

Because these life situations, cannot stand:  In Afghanistan - 87% of women are illiterate; in  Pakistan 90% of women face domestic violence and more than 1,000 women and girls are victims of honor killings every year according to the Human Rights Commission.  In the DRC  420,000 women are raped every year; while in India, 100 million people, mostly woman and girls are victims of traffickers.

Before they go though from UN Headquarters next week, the commission will agree on urgent actions needed to make a real difference in the lives of millions of rural women by making recommendations for other policy forums, such as the Rio+20 and, they will celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th.  A celebration indeed.  

Full List of Current UN Women's Commission Members:

Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Comoros, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, US, Uruguay, Zimbabwe.

---- HUMNEWS (c) 2012

Wednesday
Feb012012

Femicide and The Drug War's Invisible Victims (PERSPECTIVE) 

(On The Edge, a documentary covering the brutal murders of hundreds of young women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico since 1993. {2006})

By Laura Carlsen

There are many kinds of war. The classic image of a uniformed soldier kissing mom good-bye to risk his life on the battlefield has changed dramatically. In today’s wars, it’s more likely that mom will be the one killed.

UNIFEM states that by the mid-1990s, 90% of war casualties were civilians-- mostly women and children.

Mexico’s drug war is a good example of the new wars on civilian populations that blur the lines between combatants and place entire societies in the line of fire. Of the more than 50,000 people killed in drug war-related violence, the vast majority are civilians. President Felipe Calderón claims that 90% of the victims were linked to drug cartels. But how does he know? In a country where only 2% of crimes are investigated, tried, and sentenced, the government pulled this figure out of its sleeve.

There is no official information on why these thousands were killed. When their bodies are found in unmarked mass graves, no one even knows who they were. With violence the norm, executions can—and do--target grassroots leaders, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, and rebellious youth under the cloak of the drug war.

(PHOTO: Victim's families hope for justice/FP) Not Just Homicide

There are also war tolls beyond the body counts. The homicide number misses the disappeared, the thousands whose bodies--dead or alive--are never found to be counted. And it hides the mutilation of lives caused by “collateral damage”: the loss of loved ones, families forced from their homes, permanent injury, orphans and widows, sexual abuse, lives lived in fear.

These costs fall primarily on the shoulders of women--the mothers, daughters, and sisters who are left with the nearly impossible task of seeking answers and redress in a justice system outpaced by the violence and overrun by the corruption. They are often re-victimized by government agencies that ignore, reject, or stifle their pleas for justice.

“Families that demand that our children be found face all kinds of threats… the loss of our property, isolation, rejection by our own families,” said Araceli Rodríguez, a mother whose son, a young policeman, was disappeared on the job. His police unit refuses to give information on his disappearance.  “I wake up and find that it’s not a nightmare, that his absence is real and the impunity is also real.”

It’s rare to hear the voices of the women who bear the brunt of the drug war. Their pain doesn’t make headlines. Some need anonymity to remain alive. Many have been granted protective measures by the government or international human rights organizations because of the extreme threats they face.

Telling Stories

Despite all these difficulties, some 70 women told their stories amid tears and despite fear for their lives in Mexico City on January 22. The meeting called by the Nobel Women’s Initiative brought an international delegation led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams together with Mexican women victims of the violence and women human rights defenders.

From the sketchy statistics available, women make up a relatively small proportion of the murdered in Mexico, but they are the majority of citizens who denounce disappearances, murders, and human rights violations in the drug war. They work on the front lines of defending communities and human rights. For their efforts, they become targets themselves. In Mexico, six prominent women human rights defenders have been murdered in the past two years.

(PHOTO: Nobel Women's Initiative delegation to Mexico/NWI)The last report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders recognized that threats and especially “explicit death threats against women human rights defenders are one of the main forms of violence in the region, with more than half coming from Latin America, most of those (27) from Mexico.”

Sometimes it’s the drug cartels that seek to silence women activists. But a recent survey of Mexican women human rights defenders revealed that they cite the government (national, state, and local) and its security forces as responsible in 55% of cases of violence and threats of violence to women defenders. Among government officials charged with public safety and justice, they encounter at best indifference and at worst death threats and attacks. A human rights defender from the state of Coahuila explained that searching for a disappeared loved one implies “always having to be in the hell of the institutions, which are often infiltrated by crime.”

Gender-based violence including femicide has skyrocketed in the context of the overall violence.

The number of femicides in Chihuahua since sending the army in has risen to 837 for the period 2008-2011 June - nearly double the total femicides in 1993-2007. Women rights defenders report that the vast majority of threats and acts of violence against them include gender-based violence.

Silent No More

Olga Esparza, whose daughter Monica disappeared in Ciudad Juarez in 2009, explains through her tears that the government simply doesn’t care. “We’re the ones who have to carry out the investigations, with our own resources.” She adds that government officials often add insult to injury, “They say she’s probably just gone off with her boyfriend or she’s a prostitute or drug addict.” In her case, as with so many others, there’s no investigation, no results, no justice.

(PHOTO: Keeping memories alive/Dominio Público)Another woman described how her work with indigenous communities led to her rape and torture by police agents. She continues to live in terror due to threats against her life and her family.

Alma Gomez of the Center for the Human Rights of Women in Chihuahua summed up what she sees in the center, “Women are the invisible victims, we are always at risk in this military and police occupation. We know of gang rapes by security forces that the women don’t even report; arbitrary arrests; women who make the rounds between army barracks and city morgues searching for their sons, fathers, or husbands… We are the spoils of war in a war we didn’t ask for and we don’t want.”

“Victim” is really the wrong word for these women. The mother whose son disappeared more than two years ago said, “In the struggle to find my son, I joined the peace movement. I learned that I can transform my pain into a collective force and together we can help more people to have a voice and to now be empowered to defend their rights.”

Valentina Rosendo, a Me’phaa indigenous woman from the State of Guerrero, was raped by soldiers and took her case all the way up to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. She sums up the reason for participating in the Nobel Women’s forum, “It’s really hard to speak out, but it’s more painful to keep quiet.” 

- Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. Originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Related click here 

Saturday
Dec102011

A Liberian, a Liberian and a Yemen – Women – Walk into a Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony…..

Nobel Peace Prize winners Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, left; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, center; Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, right take the stage at City Hall in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2011. (PHOTO: TimesofMalta, John McConnico)(HN, December 10, 2011) - ...And take home the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace.  On Saturday December 10, the traditionally sanctioned date on which the Nobel Committee awards the world’s highest peacemaking honor, three proud women – from Africa and the Middle Eastern – strode onto the stage at Stockholm’s `Concert Hall’ to take their place in history.

The women - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman - won the coveted prize for their efforts to peacefully bring change to their countries.

But President Sirleaf who called the prize a “wonderful recognition” said it really belongs to many more oppressed women around the world who have “suffered inequalities”.  

"This award belongs to the people whose aspirations and expectations for a better world we have the privilege to represent and whose rights we have the obligation to defend," said Sirleaf.  She went on, "History will judge us not by what we say in this moment in time, but what we do next to lift the lives of our countrymen and women who face a lack of access to those basic things that allow the comfort of life".

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Liberia's first elected female president in 2006.  Fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee is an activist recognized for uniting women against the country's warlords. 

Leymah Gbowee, who led a group of women in white t-shirts who stared down warlords to help turn the tide of her country's civil war, also spoke about the millions of others who were on stage Saturday.

"I believe that the prize this year recognizes not only our struggle in Liberia and Yemen, it is in recognition of the struggle of grass-roots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Tunisia, Palestine and Israel and in every troubled corner of the world," said Gbowee.  Adding, "victory is still afar...there is no time to rest."

Royal trumpeters heralded the beginning of the annual ceremony, as Norway's royal family and this year's Nobel laureates entered the hall.

Both Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee become the seventh and eighth African recipients of the Nobel prize – following successively Albert John Lutuli, South Africa, 1960; Desmond Tutu, South Africa, 1984; Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, 1993; Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Ghana, along with the UN itself in 2001; sustainability advocate Wangari Maathai, Kenya, 2004 (deceased in September 2011 from a long battle with cancer). 

Co-recipient of this year’s Peace Prize Yemeni activist and journalist Tawakkol Karman becomes the first Arab woman and youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for her country’s freedoms earlier this year in Sana'a's Tahrir Square.  On the Nobel stage she said, “The prize will lift the spirits and support the aspirations of Arabs who are struggling peacefully to improve their lives. This year's Arab revolutions confronted tyrants who went too far in depriving their people of freedom and justice. The international community must do more to fulfill its pledges and resolutions for peace, freedom and women's rights.”

The three Nobel Peace Prize winners each received a medal and a diploma, and will share the $1.5 million US prize. The Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature - and the related prize in economics - were presented later Saturday in Stockholm as well.

These awards for 2011 were given in Physics, jointly to Saul Perlmutter,  Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess of the US and Australia; the Prize for Chemistry to Dan Shechtman of Israel; the Prize for Medicine jointly to Bruce A. Beutler, Ralph M. Steinman and Jules A. Hoffmann respectively of the US and Luxembourg; the Prize for Literature to Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden; and the Prize for Economics to Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims of the US.

Since the Nobel Peace Prize was first annually awarded in 1901, a total of 15 women have received it. The first was Austrian writer and peace activist Bertha von Suttner in 1905.  Later the late Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun won in 1979 for her humanitarian work.  1991's recipient was Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003.  The most recent woman to receive the prize was Wangari Maathai in 2004.

Women have also won Nobel Prizes in the sciences and literature, with one woman, radiation researcher Marie Curie, honored twice, first in physics and years later in chemistry.

Norwegian Nobel panel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says women are critical to peace.  "We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," said Jagland.

IN A RELATED EVENT:

China’s Alternative Nobel Prize Honours Russia’s Vladimir Putin as Thousands Take to Streets to Protest Recent Elections

In Beijing on Friday, two exchange students accepted a Chinese peace prize on behalf of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Confucius Peace Prize was hastily launched last year as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize which in 2010 honored imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  A group of five Nobel Peace Prize winners including Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams as well as former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, Reporters Without Borders and others have urged China to release Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subverting state power in China by co-authoring an appeal for political reform.  The International Committee of Support to Liu Xiaobo said in an email that Liu is the only Nobel laureate currently in prison, following the release of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in November 2010. 

The Confucius Prize sponsors are professors and academics who say they are independent of China’s government.  Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize went ahead with this year's awards against the wishes of the Ministry of Culture who ordered the group to shut down saying they did not have official permission to run the awards.  Undeterred, the original masterminds of the award set up a new organisation called China International Peace Research Centre before quickly announcing this year's winner.

(Two Russian Exchange students recieve 2011 Confucious Award on behalf of Vladimir Putin. PHOTO: weibo/littleoslo)Lien Chan, former chairman of the Kuomintang, ruling party of Taiwan, was the winner of the first Confucius Peace Prize in 2010. He did not attend the award ceremony, so a little girl was selected by organisers to accept the award in his place.  Similarly, Putin, was honored for `enhancing Russia’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya’ organizers said because during his 2000-2008 term as president Putin “brought remarkable enhancement to the military might and political status of Russia”.  The 2011 prize ceremony took place one day before this year’s annual Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, and two Russian female exchange students were selected to stand in for Putin where they accepted a statue of the Zhou Dynasty sage on his behalf.  

The Prize came as thousands of people have taken to Russian streets for a week protesting authoritarian trends in Putin’s policies, his reputation for jailing political rivals and cracking down on government critics. Demonstrations in Moscow over last week’s parliamentary elections which were believed to be tainted by fraud have raised the biggest ever challenge to Putin who is seeking to return to the presidency next year; currently serving as the country’s Prime Minister, having spent two terms as the country’s former President.

Putin, who recently led the United Russia party to its worst ever showing at the polls, beat seven other nominees -- Gyaltsen Norbu (the "Chinese Panchen Lama"), Bill Gates, South African President Jacob Zuma, former UN chief Kofi Annan, Yuan Longping a Chinese agricultural scientist known as the "father of hybrid rice", German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Taiwanese politician James Soong -- to clinch the highly-uncoveted title of Confucious Prize winner.

IN RUSSIA, MEANWHILE PROTESTORS CHANT, `PUTIN OUT’

In the largest public display of mass discontent in post-Soviet Russia, an anti-government demonstration brought tens of thousands of Moscow citizens out to the packed streets near the Kremlin to protest alleged electoral fraud by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his party `United Russia’ on Saturday. Protestors gathered in other cities across this huge country with clashes reported in St. Petersburg, the Pacific city of Vladivostok, the Siberian city of Perm and the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk among others.

(Video, Al Jazeera)  City officials in Moscow had given unusual permission for a rally of up to 30,000 people, and by the time the rally started, with periodic wind-blown snow, police said there were at least 25,000 while protest organizers claimed 40,000.

In smaller gatherings earlier in the week hundreds of people were arrested or hospitalized after violence broke out, including prominent opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, and Sergei Udaltsov.

On Saturday people chanted, “Putin Out”; saying things such as "Everyone is sick of living under this regime which forbids freedom of expression” and holding signs with "Putin's a louse" and banners such with the United Russia party emblem, reading "The rats must go".  The protests come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and who has been Prime Minister under current President Dmitry Medvedev’s government, will seek a third term as President in nationwide elections on March 4, 2012.

Putin’s power however was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the two-thirds majority it held in the previous parliament. Protestors allege that even that showing was inflated by massive vote fraud, citing reports by local and international monitors of widespread violations. Earlier in the week Russian President Medvedev conceded that election law may have been breached and Putin suggested "dialogue with the opposition-minded".  It is known that on Election Day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country's only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.

The Kremlin has come under strong international pressure which called the vote unfair, urging an investigation into fraud; Putin has specifically said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US are intentionally fomenting protests and trying to undermine Russia. Recently, U.S. Sen. John McCain tweeted to Putin that "the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you".

---HUMNEWS staff, with contributors

Saturday
Sep242011

Women & Girls Economic Empowerment Gets Attention at Clinton Summit (REPORT)

By Pilar Stella Ingargiola

CGI 2011 Breakout Session: Designing Technologies for Economic Empowerment

Geena Davis speaking at the CGI panel. Credit: Adam Schultz / Clinton Global Initiative

As part of the recently Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York, there was a heavy focus was on empowering women and girls through economic empowerment, violence reduction, health and environmental equity.

A session on Day Three on Designing Technologies for Economic Empowerment of Women and Girls featured panelists including Geena Davis who recently founded The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Neil Bellefeuille of The Paradigm Project , Toshi Nakamura of The Kopernik and Dr. Angel Cabrera, President of Thunderbird School of Global Management with Chelsea Clinton as the moderator.

Davis’s research with The Institute is the only of its kind exploring gender inequality in portrayals by the media and may serve as a “a wake-up call” to educate Hollywood on the negative images and stereotypes that media promotes of women and girls.

Research found that there is only one female for every three males portrayed in the media and crowd scenes include only 17% women as compared with 83% men.

Not only is the representation of women imbalanced, but their portrayal as Davis noted is “sidelined and hypersexualized.” The study found that there is the same percentage of nakedness portrayed in G rated shows as R rated shows.

There are few to no women portrayed in jobs, with over 81% of jobs held by men in the media. “Women serve as eye candy,” said Davis, rather than being portrayed in business, law, medicine and other professions. She explained that for women and girls, “If they can see it, they can be it.” So if there are more positive images and role models of women in media, then more women can see themselves in those roles and the more “acceptable” it can be to men as well. If not, then it leaves few to no models of what is possible.

With 80% of the media consumed worldwide created in the U.S., there is a need to shift this “narrow stereotyping and hyper sexualization.” As Davis emphasized, “We can use media to cure media.” That is, media from this narrow perspective limits the ways in which the public – both men and women – see women. The more TV girls watch the more they think they can’t achieve what they want and the more boys watch, the more likely they are to be sexist. Davis’ institute seeks to raise awareness for Hollywood and beyond to help make the case for a shift in the portrayal of women and girls.

Cabrera from Thunderbird highlighted the nuance of the power of narratives. That is, that not only the images we project, but the language we use furthers the pervasive stereotypes.

For example, Cabrera explained that even terminology such as ‘microentrepreneurs,’ being used predominantly for women entrepreneurs is “condescending.” “In the U.S. we would call these start ups,” but with women and global entrepreneurs we call them “microentrepreneurs.” Cabrera reiterated the need to be conscientious not only in our images but also in our language and education of entrepreneurs.

Davis further emphasized the critical opportunity that this research provides to educate and empower Hollywood and the media to turn the corner in shifting the images and opportunities for women that can truly translate to economic empowerment.

The Clinton Global Initiative is an annual conference that brings together philanthropists and world leaders to inspire, connect and forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Since it was established in 2005, nearly 150 current and former heads of state, 18 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of CEOs, heads of foundations, nonprofits and major philanthropists have made nearly 2,000 commitments impacting over 180 countries, the lives of over 300 million people, and commitments upwards of $60 billion.

---The author, Pilar Stella Ingargiola, MPH, is the CEO & Founder of OneGiving (www.onegiving.com), a global organization that empowers, inspires and connects people in giving to create change on the planet. Pilar is an author, speaker and social entrepreneur who has been working towards social change and making a difference on the planet through every endeavor she has embarked on over the past 15 years.

Friday
Aug122011

Women's Exclusion Worsens Somali Crises (OPINION)

Khadija O. Ali (photo credit: GMU)On July 22, 2011 the newly appointed Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a Harvard-trained professor of economics, announced his 49-member cabinet. There are only two women in it: one minister and one vice minister. Yet, Somali women and children are the primary victims of ongoing conflict and deepening drought and famine in Somalia. According to UNICEF, a child dies every six minutes in the areas hard hit by drought in the Horn of Africa. In addition, all international studies show that women and children are the most vulnerable groups in societies under stress.

But with continued, systemic UN and Western support, the Somali Transitional Federal Government continues to exclude women from all decision-making arenas. Apart from the formality of mentioning women and children as footnotes in UN and government speeches, Somalia is pursuing business as usual.

The political sidelining of women in Somalia goes against both national and international conventions. Resolution 1325 adopted in 2000, for instance, calls on all UN agencies and all UN member states to support and promote the full and effective participations of women at all stages of peace processes and for ending gender-based violence against women and girls living in armed conflict zones. Over a decade after adopting resolution 1325, and after 20 years of civil war, Somalia does not accede to the basic tenants of this UN convention.

At a national level, meanwhile, Article 29 of the Somali transitional charter guarantees a 12 percent quota for women in parliament. But of the current 550 transitional federal parliamentarians only 38 are women. In addition, there is only one female permanent secretary out of the current 18 government ministries.

The newly appointed prime minister and his government should create genuine mechanisms to ensure the full participation of Somali women as citizens, as guaranteed by the Transitional Charter. The UN, regional powers, and Western governments, which all profess concern for Somalia, must get serious about their obligations and begin representing all Somalis, not just their narrow national and institutional interests.

Whatever the virtues of the prevailing 4.5 clan-based formula for selection of clan representatives and power-sharing (designed to balance power among four principle clans and five minorities), it applies only to Somali men. Whether religious, secular, or educated, the male-dominated Somali political leadership continues to deny women participation in the political process. In practice, the 4.5 clan-based formula has not created any serious space for Somali women. Both indigenously and internationally, Somali women simply do not matter. 

Without the full participation of Somali women, and their contribution and commitment to building sustainable and durable peace platforms, no effective peace will ever be generated or preserved in Somalia. Including women in all stages of the decision-making process will improve security because women suffer more when there is insecurity and therefore are more committed to the establishment and maintenance of security. Women are not warlords or gun traffickers and do not stand to gain power, money, or prestige from continued instability and violence. The inclusion of women will also improve the reconciliation process because women are important actors who have contributed to resolving conflicts in their communities in Somalia. Because of their marital and clan relationships, women can reach out to various stakeholders and often act as go-betweens with the parties in conflict. Women are key economic actors in Somalia and are involved in small business in order to provide for their families, so their participation is vital to the country’s economic development.

Finally, Somali women lead more than 50 percent of the local NGOs delivering humanitarian assistance. So, having women in important political positions will lead to transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the vulnerable population. Therefore, women must be appointed as advisors, strategists, actors, planners, and managers of humanitarian assistance.

More than 20 years of the same game has left Somalia in a mess. The systemic absence of Somali women in the Somali peace and nation-building process has hampered progress within Somalia. Participation in the peace-building process is a right to which Somali women are entitled, not a favor that is bestowed on them. 

Khadija O. Ali is a former member of the Somali Transitional National Parliament and a minister of state at the Transitional National Government from 2000 to 2002. A contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, she is also a Ph.D.candidate at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

- This article was originally published by Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday
Mar082011

International Women's Day (Report) 

File photo (HN, March 8, 2011) -- Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, which was held by only a handful of  European countries in 1911 – where more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination.

Themes on politics, human rights, and gender equality continue to create social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide.

In the past century much progress has been made in gender equality – in 1911 only a few countries in the world allowed women to vote – New Zealand, South Australia (both self-governing British colonies) and the Grand Duchy of Finland - today that right is practically universal.

However, there are still many challenges for women and girls around the world. According to UN Women, the Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment for Women, almost two out of three illiterate adults are women, girls are still less likely to be in school than boys, and every 90 seconds of every day, a woman dies in pregnancy or do to childbirth-related complications.

Women, around the globe, continue to earn less than men for the same work. In addition and despite many high-profile advances, women still make up only 19 percent of legislatures, 8 percent of peace negotiators, and 28 women are heads of state or government.  

The International Labour Organization (IOL) Director General Juan Somavia has said that “achieving gender equality remains a major challenge for the labor movement in the world because securing sustainable and equitable recovery and a fair globalization demand gender-aware responses.” Somavia made the statement while reacting to ILO’s latest report which disclosed that both women and men continue to feel the impact of the economic crisis, with the global unemployment rate for men standing at 6 percent in 2010 and at 6.5 percent for women.

Afghan women demonstrate for equal rights, photo courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

In some countries IWD is designated as a national holiday - Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia

In Armenia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, IWD celebrations were abandoned. Instead, April 7 was introduced as a state holiday for “Beauty and Motherhood”. The new holiday immediately became popular among Armenians, as it commemorates one of the main holidays of the Armenian Church, the Annunciation.

To celebrate IWD, Italian men give yellow mimosas to women. Yellow mimosas and chocolates are also among the most common March 8 presents in Russia and Albania. The mimosa’s bright yellow is seen as a symbol of vitality, joy, wisdom and warmth.

In Pakistan, working women celebrate IWD to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights, despite facing many cultural and religious restrictions.

In poor developing countries, especially is where we most often see gender inequality and abuses facing women daily.

photo courtesy of listgalorNicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn expose major abuses of women in developing countries in their book Half the Sky. They tell stories of women being victimized by their government, by their communities, by relatives, strangers until there is no where left to turn. However, what is inspiring about this book is that women who survived became business owners, activists, community organizers teachers, teachers, surgeons, and mothers who could show their children an example of a strong, valuable woman who is making a living, participating in household decisions, and respected by her husband and community.

60 percent of the worlds one billion poorest people are female; women work two-thirds of working hours but earn only 10 percent of the income.

Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, a humanitarian organization working to end global poverty points out that “women and girls bear the brunt of poverty and it is clear that women are our greatest hope for ending it.”

Gayle goes on to say that “for every year of education that a woman can have, she is more likely to have good health, to give birth to a child who survives and to send that child to school.”

Many organizations, such as the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 women and Exxon Mobil’s Women’s Economic Opportunity and more believe that investing early in a girl’s life, before she becomes a woman, only amplifies the potential of what she can do in life and yields a greater return for everyone around her. 

- HUMNews Staff 

Thursday
Dec302010

Kashmir: A look at the affects of conflict on women (Report) 

by Afsana Rashid Bhat

(HN, December 30, 2010) Facing the brunt of a two-decade-long armed conflict, most women in Kashmir are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Their roles are shifting abruptly from a home maker to a breadwinner and has rendered them physically crippled, emotionally bruised and economically disturbed.

Kashmir being a major stumbling block in relations between India and Pakistan has so far involved two declared and two undeclared wars. When armed conflict started here in 1989, many people began disappearing on both sides.Kashmir region - showing disputed territories

Some victims were arrested by Indian armed forces and police for alleged involvement in militant activities. The families of those arrested believe that the victims are often killed after being tortured in custody, but many still hold onto the hope that they will see their dear ones again. There is no report that can prove that any missing persons taken by the government have ever returned.

Some people have been subjected to disappearance by militants on the pretext that the victims were working as informers for Indian forces. Families are generally reluctant to identify kidnappers, preferring to say that their loved ones had disappeared by “unidentified gunmen.” They don’t disclose who was responsible, whether Indian forces (the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force) or militant groups, for fear of retaliation against them or their families.

Women face most of the brunt of the entire situation. They are the worst sufferers on various counts.

Psychologically, they’ve been traumatized by the death of few women who were expecting babies due to the lack of ante-natal care in initial years of the militancy, as reported by Dr. Abdul Rashid Malik, former Deputy Director Health Services-Kashmir, and this fact sends shivers down the spine.

“In the early 1990’s, a few deaths of expectant mothers were reported for want of ante-natal check-up as they couldn’t make it to the hospital due to cross-firing and search operations.  The situation became grim particularly during Jag Mohan’s state governor’s reign. George Fernandes, the then Kashmir affairs in-charge Government of India, was apprised of the same information by senior health officers”, says Dr.Malik.

The former Deputy Director says that people, especially women, were on the look out for psychiatrists. “Since psychiatrists were not available in requisite numbers, they had to look for alternatives that lead to suicidal tendencies among them. Young widows and half-widows who, had to feed their children single-handedly faced the worst of it”.

Most of the women who have been directly affected by conflict, says Dr. Hameedullah, Shah, renowned psychiatrist suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often leads to depression.

“Emotionally women are more susceptible. This keeps them under stress. Most of the time women have been apprehensive about safety of their male members,” says Dr. Shah adding “anxiety, body ache and pain, as well as an irritable attitude has been commonly observed among women, over here for these years”.A Kashmiri woman paddles along Dal lake in Srinagar, photo courtesy of globeandmail

Isolation and other social problems, says Dr. Shah have been witnessed in particular among women confined within the four walls of their homes as their interaction gets affected. He said that no specific data is available to quantify their health problems.

Referring to the attitude of society towards the plight of widows and half-widows, renowned religious scholar Kaleemullah Khan says, “Ignorance, selfishness, cruelty and inhuman attitude is at its climax”.

“The Quran is categoric about widows. If she does not have kids then she inherits one-fourth of the property left by the deceased and if she has children she inherits one-eighth,” says Khan, adding “though no authentic verse deals exclusively with it, a decree based on consensus can be issued by ‘ulemas’ and ‘molvees’ (scholars and clerics), with the consideration of the intensity and immediacy of the problem and its ramifications”.

“Rehabilitating orphan (special children) is one of the basic teachings of Islam, discussed  at least three dozen times in the Quran. More so when an orphan is nearest of kin, responsibility doubles”, he adds. To make such women economically self reliant, Khan suggests certain collective measures like providing them suitable professions (crèche, orphanages, home-based-industry) and encouraging their re-marry.

Dr. Khurshid-ul-Islam, a well-known sociologist, says that her attachment to her first husband and children stops her remarrying. “Facts are facts, it is children who become the motivating force for her not to re-marry - otherwise it is permitted under Islam”.

“Being more sensitive and fragile to issues, she can’t face the situation and while facing the brunt of it she gets labeled, exploited and becomes the talk of the town. Automatically, she gets distressed,” says the sociologist adding, “She is already at the back of the bench when something happens here.”

According to Dr. Khurshid, she becomes the ‘forced’ bread winner or crusader in a society like Kashmir and a forced decision-maker, wherein she normally fails. On the economic aspect he says, “The majority of them voluntarily work in fields but now it’s a forced role”, adding, “I won’t call it economic empowerment. Her heart isn’t with it”.

Psychologically, as well women have suffered immensely over the past two decades. Mental health of women has deteriorated the most, particularly direct sufferers of conflict.

According to doctors at the Government Psychiatry Diseases Hospital, women constitute 62 percent of patients visiting it, says a report published by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (J&KCCS), a human rights group. Hundreds of women, it says, have no idea of medical counseling and continue to suffer.

According to studies, most Kashmiris suffer from PTSD and are in need of treatment.  As against 1,762 patients registered during 1990, number of patients who visited hospital in 2000 went up to 38,696 and nearly 48,000 in 2002, says the report, adding “before eruption of conflict in Kashmir in 1989 hardly any case of PTSD was reported”.

According to Medecins Sans Frontiers, MSF (Doctors Without Borders), a private international medical and humanitarian organization, counseling can help to understand the problem and treatment through counseling is psychological and a process that might continue for a certain time period depending upon severity, intensity, complexity, duration of problem and likewise.

PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) are common psychiatric disorders found in an orphanage, almost exclusively in female children. Younger age, being female and lower socio-economic class are believed to be other risk factors for PTSD, says the study, “Psychiatric disorders among children living in orphanages-Experience from Kashmir.”

Psychologists believe that not only physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural reactions occur under stressful situations but relationships get strained, accidents become common after severe stresses followed by danger of alcohol and drug abuse.

MSF believes that areas of armed conflict and mass violence generally give rise to stressful situations that can be difficult to cope up with. “Violence has touched each family here, in a way or other, which leads to detrimental effects on well-being of people”.

- Afsana Rashid Bhat is a journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir-India. Author of the book, “Waiting for justice: Widows and Half-widows”She is a recipient of the Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Sanjoy Ghose Media fellowship (2006-07) by Charkha Communications Development Network - New Delhi, UN Population Fund-Laadli Media Award and Grass-root Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) – Media Awards-2007. She was also awarded a fellowship in 2005 for her work on impact of conflict on the subsistence livelihoods of marginalized communities in Kashmir by Action Aid India.

Monday
Nov082010

Hundreds Subjected to Sexual Violence During Mass Expulsions From Angola to Congo - UN Report

(CREDIT: Africamap.com) (HN, November 8, 2010) - A new report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says more than 650 people were sexually abused during mass expulsions from Angola to Congo.

"The conditions of expulsion are still terrible. In many cases, sexual violence is reported and even cases of torture," said the report.

It documents 657 instances of sexual violence based on evidence collated by welcome committees in the two territories of Luiza and Tshikapa/Kamonia, in Western Kasai province, in two waves during October.

The UN has called for an immediate investigation into the reports.

"I call upon the authorities of both countries to investigate these allegations and to proceed in compliance with relevant legislation," said Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, in a statement issued yesterday. "I expect the authorities of Angola and the DRC to respect human rights and to do everything in their power to prevent abuses of all kinds during any further expulsions."

Word of the allegations comes after publication of reports of systematic rape of up to 500 civilians in eastern Congo between July 30 and August 3 by rebel militiamen in the town of Luvungi, while UN peacekeepers were stationed nearby.

Atul Khare, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, said UN peacekeepers had "failed" to protect the victims.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has raised the alarm on a polio epidemic in Angola.

Polio was on the brink of eradication in Angola at the end of 2004, UNICEF says, when the country had experienced three consecutive years without new cases. Then, in 2005, the wild poliovirus reappeared, and Angola now has one of the biggest polio caseloads in Africa. So far this year, 25 cases have been reported.

“While stopping the transmission of polio by the end of this year is on track,” says UNICEF Representative in Angola Dr. Koen Vanormelingen, “more effort and funding is still required."

-HUMNEWS staff