Studying Marine Life’s Brief Break from Human Noise

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Opinion

Hydrophone launch. Credit: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)

NEW YORK, Apr 15 2021 (IPS) – Travel and economic slowdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have combined to brake shipping, seafloor exploration, and many other human activities in the ocean, creating a unique moment to begin a time-series study of the impacts of sound on marine life.


Our community of scientists has identified more than 200 non-military ocean hydrophones worldwide and hopes to make the most of the unprecedented opportunity to pool their recorded data into the 2020 quiet ocean assessment and to help monitor the ocean soundscape long into the future.

Our aim is a network of 500 hydrophones capturing the signals of whales and other marine life while assessing the racket levels of human activity. Combined with other sea life monitoring methods such as animal tagging, the work will help reveal the extent to which noise in “the Anthropocene seas” impacts ocean species, which depend on sound and natural sonar to mate, navigate and feed across the ocean.

Sound travels far in the ocean and a hydrophone can pick up low frequency signals from hundreds, even thousands of kilometres away.

Assessing the risks of underwater sound for marine life requires understanding what sound levels cause harmful effects and where in the ocean vulnerable animals may be exposed to sound exceeding these levels.

In 2011, experts began developing the International Quiet Ocean Experiment (IQOE), launched in 2015 with the International Quiet Ocean Experiment Science Plan. Among our goals: to create a time series of measurements of ambient sound in many ocean locations to reveal variability and changes in intensity and other properties of sound at a range of frequencies.

The plan also included designating 2022 “the Year of the Quiet Ocean.” Due to COVID-19, however, the oceans are unlikely to be as quiet as they were in April, 2020 for many decades to come.

COVID-19 reduced sound levels more than we dreamed possible. IQOE, therefore, is focusing project resources to encourage study of changes in sound levels and effects on organisms that occurred in 2020, based on observations from hundreds of hydrophones worldwide in 2019-2021.

Of the 231 non-military hydrophones identified to February 2021, the highest concentrations are found along the North American coasts — Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic — Hawaii, Europe, and Antarctica, with some scattered through the Asia-Pacific region.

Several have agreed to their geographic coordinates and other metadata being shown on the IQOE website (https://www.iqoe.org/systems).

Sparse, sporadic deployment of hydrophones and obstacles to integrating measurements have narrowly limited what we confidently know.

We are therefore creating a global data repository with contributors using standardized methods, tools and depths to measure and document ocean soundscapes and effects on the distribution and behavior of vocalizing animals.

New software, MANTA (at https://bit.ly/3cVNUox), developed by researchers across the USA and led by the University of New Hampshire, will help standardize ocean sound recording data from collaborators, facilitating its comparability, pooling and visualization.

As well, an Open Portal to Underwater Sound (OPUS), is being tested at Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany to promote the use of acoustic data collected worldwide, providing easy access to MANTA-processed data. The aggregated data will permit soundscape maps of entire oceans.

Meanwhile, scientists over the past decade have developed powerful methods to estimate the distribution and abundance of vocalizing animals using passive acoustic monitoring.

The fledgling hydrophone network contributes to the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), a network of observing assets monitoring currents, temperature, sea level, chemical pollution, litter, and other concerns worldwide.

Precious chance

Seldom has there been such a chance to collect quiet ocean data in the Anthropocene Seas. COVID-19 drastically decreased shipping, tourism and recreation, fishing and aquaculture, naval and coast guard exercises, offshore construction, port and channel dredging, and energy exploration and extraction. The concurrent price war that caused oil prices to dive to zero further quieted maritime energy activities.

The last comparable opportunity followed the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, which disrupted not just air travel; they also led to a shipping slowdown and ocean noise reduction, prompting biologists to study stress hormone levels in endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy.

With their 2001 data, research revealed higher September stress hormone levels over the next four years as the whales prepared to migrate to warmer southern waters where they calve, suggesting that the industrialized ocean causes chronic stress of animals.

We are on the way to timely, reliable, easily understood maps of ocean soundscapes, including the exceptional period of April 2020 when the COVID virus gave marine animals a brief break from human clatter.

Let’s learn from the COVID pause to help achieve safer operations for shipping industries, offshore energy operators, navies, and other users of the ocean.

Additional information about MANTA is available at https://bitbucket.org/CLO-BRP/manta-wiki/wiki/Home, and about the IQOE at https://bit.ly/3sDTkd

We invite parties in a position to help to join us in this global effort to assess the variability and trends of ocean sound and the effects of sound on marine life.

*Jesse Ausubel is the IQOE project originator and Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, New York City; Edward R. Urban Jr of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research is the IQOE Project Manager

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Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

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Environment

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.


“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”

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Women Will Not Reach Parity at the Pinnacle of Power for Another 130 Years, Predicts UN

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés was only the fourth woman in the 76-year history of the United Nations to be elected President of the General Assembly, the UN’s main deliberative and policy-making body. She was the Foreign Minister of Ecuador. She is being congratulated by the outgoing President Miroslav Lajčák, (centre) and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. September 2018. Credit: UN / Loey Felipe

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 2021 (IPS) – The United Nations says the highest levels of political power remain the furthest from achieving gender parity in an increasingly male-dominated power structure worldwide.


Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 23 countries (10 women Heads of State and 13 women Heads of Government out of 193 UN member states), while 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

At the current rate, says a new report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, parity at the pinnacle of power will not be reached for another 130 years. (based on calculations of UN-Women data, as of 1 November 2020).

But this triggers the question: Does this also apply to the United Nations, which has never had a woman as Secretary-General, while only four women have been elected to lead the General Assembly– over a period of 76 years.?

Available research demonstrates that women’s and men’s education, political experience and ages upon entering executive office are similar.

Gendered perceptions that executive offices should be filled by men, and not on the basis of credentials, account for women’s severe underrepresentation at this level., according to the report which will go before the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), March 15-26.
https://undocs.org/E/CN.6/2021/3

The CSW, described as the principal global intergovernmental body, exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, is a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Speaking on International Women’s Day March 8, Guterres singled out the progress made on gender parity under his administration.

“Overall, we in the United Nations are on a positive trajectory towards gender parity. Two decades after the General Assembly’s first deadline, we are finally making progress across the entire United Nations system. We achieved the goal of 50-50 gender parity amongst my Senior leadership, two years ahead of my commitment,” he said.

In the Secretariat, the proportion of women in the professional categories and above has increased to over 41 per cent from 37 per cent in 2017 – a steady annual increase. “This shows that our strategy works”.

In the Secretariat’s field operations, the gender balance is 31 percent women and 69 percent men.

Guterres also said: “We are taking steps to identify qualified women candidates to replace many of the 3,000 international staff who are retiring in the next eight years, the majority of whom are men. This includes measures to develop staff and build internal talent pipelines.”

In 1953, India’s Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, pictured at UN Headquarters alongside the then Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, was elected as the 8th and first woman President. Credit: UN / Albert Fox

Gender equality is a question of power. “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and male-dominated power structures. This has inevitably affected the institutional culture of the United Nations, and of diplomacy as a whole”, he declared.

But does that male-dominated power structure reach out to the office of the UN Secretary-General?

Ian Richards, a former president of the UN staff coordinating committee, told IPS there have been varied reactions from UN staff to the Secretary-General’s gender parity policy, particularly when it comes to downsizing in peacekeeping operations.

“However, this year many staff have been asking us if the Secretary-General plans to apply the gender parity policy to his own position, which up to now has only been filled by men. We don’t know how to answer them on this as it is outside our mandate,” said Richards.

“The Secretary-General may wish to address this question directly,” he added.

Barbara Adams, chair of the board of Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “It’s a relief to see that the Secretary-General is no longer equating gender parity with gender equality. As we know overcoming structural or institutional discrimination of any and all kinds extends to measures beyond individual appointments.”

The recognition of importance and impact of power dynamics is welcome, but “taking” power in the present setup is a bit of a contradiction in terms, she argued.

Perhaps the quote of Simone de Beauvoir would be of interest, said Adams, a former Associate Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (1981–1988).

Considered one of the most pre-eminent French existentialist philosophers and writers, Simone de Beauvoir, once famously remarked: “The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power”.

  

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Global Data Community’s Response to COVID-19

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Opinion

Francesca Perucci is Chief, Development Data and Outreach Branch at the United Nations

Data Community’s Response to Covid-10. Credit: UNWDF Secretariat, UN Statistics Division

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 2020 (IPS) – The world is currently counting more than 42 million confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and over 1 million deaths since the start of the pandemic.1


The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2

The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3

While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.

The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.

In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.

Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4

Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth

Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5

Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6

Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.

In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.

The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.

The UN World Data Forum

The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.

The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.

These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.

This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.

The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.

The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.

This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.

Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:

    • Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level;
    • Better ways to communicate data and statistics;
    • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities;
    • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms;
    • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection;
    • How to secure more funding for data.

The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.

What next?

The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.

Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.

World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.

To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.

The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.

1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard
2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition
3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020
4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/
5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020
6 The World Bank

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Amid COVID-19, What is the Health of Civic Freedoms?

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Marianna Belalba Barreto is the Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation & Aarti Narsee is a Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Black Lives Matter Protests, Washington DC, June 2020. Credit: Ted Eytan

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct 16 2020 (IPS) – More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus.


Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent.

But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.

Even before the pandemic freedom of expression was under threat. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor reported that censorship was the most common violation during that year, occurring across 178 countries.

Now, under the guise of stopping the spread of what they characterise as ‘fake news’, many governments continue to target the media.

Free-flowing information and unrestricted speech are vital during a pandemic. People need to receive accurate and up-to-date information on the emergency, not least so they can protect themselves and their families.

As frontline workers, journalists have a crucial role to play in disseminating important information, often putting their own lives at risk. But during the pandemic they have faced harassment, arbitrary detention and censorship from governments determined to silence critical reporting about their response to COVID-19.

Often such attempts have been carried out under the guise of tackling so-called ‘fake news’ on the virus.

Even before the pandemic, Turkey was the number one jailer of journalists in the world, with about 165 journalists currently behind bars. The government’s crackdown on the media has continued, with journalists being jailed on charges of ‘causing people to panic and publishing reports on coronavirus outside the knowledge of authorities’.

Thousands of social media accounts have also been placed under surveillance for comments about COVID-19, with citizens being detained for ‘unfounded and provocative’ posts that cause worry among the public, incite them to fear, panic and target persons and institutions’.

People expect to be able to question their government’s handling of the crisis and hold it to account over the decisions made. But governments are resisting this. In Zimbabwe, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was detained and charged for his critical reporting on the government’s COVID-19 procurement.

The need for this was clear when Zimbabwe’s health minister was dismissed and arrested for alleged corruption in medical procurement. But while Chin’ono has been released on bail, the persecution against him continues, despite calls from local and international media watchdog bodies for all charges to be dropped.

Despite these restrictions, people have continued to mobilise and fight for their rights. The pandemic pushed activists to come up with new and innovative forms of protests. Health workers across the world staged socially distanced protests to highlight the challenges within the medical system which have been further exposed by the pandemic; around the world, people found innovative ways to get their voices across.

In Palestine, feminist organisations organised balcony protests against the surge of gender-based violence during the pandemic. Videos show people standing on their balconies, banging pots and pans and hanging banners to show solidarity.

In Singapore in April, young climate activists from the Fridays for Future global school strike movement held solo protests in order to sidestep the country’s restrictive laws on peaceful assembly.

In June in Brazil, human rights groups organised peaceful interventions to denounce the scale of the COVID-19 crisis; protesters in the capital Brasilia put up 1,000 crosses to pay tribute to COVID-19 victims on the lawn in front of key government buildings, calling out President Jair Bolsonaro for his denials of the pandemic’s gravity.

Protests against racial injustice have been staged in all corners of the globe, following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020. Floyd’s death sparked massive protests against police brutality in the USA, under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

As the movement expanded, people from different continents, in countries as diverse as Senegal, Sri Lanka and Sweden, chanted “No Justice, No Peace”, and held placards reading “racism is a virus” to show they had no choice but to protest amid a global pandemic.

But in some countries these protests were dispersed by police using excessive force, with the reasoning that protests would lead to a further spread of COVID-19.

CIVICUS continues to document civic space restrictions, and while many governments are taking advantage of the crisis to suppress criticism, civil society continues to resist, to fight back, and to make their voices heard.

As part of this, journalists are playing a vital role in fighting censorship and sharing information about the pandemic.

What is very clear is that civil society has and will continue to play a vital role in addressing the urgent needs of the people during this crisis. Without a healthy civic space and an enabling environment for activists, civil society and journalists, we will not be able to effectively tackle the spread of the virus and the prospect for rebuilding a more equal and just society will be limited.

This is why people will continue to organise, mobilise and protest.

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To Achieve Gender Equality Within, the UN Must Do More to Tackle Sexual Harassment

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Antonia Kirkland is Global Lead on Legal Equality & Access to Justice at Equality Now*

Credit: Equality Now, Tara Carey

NEW YORK, Sep 30 2020 (IPS) – In September 2017, Secretary-General António Guterres launched the “System-wide strategy on gender parity”, which set the goal of reaching gender parity within the United Nations by 2028 and outlined a strategy on how to achieve this, including the introduction of special measures, senior appointments, targets and accountability, amongst other things.


Three years have passed and it is heartening to hear that the UN has made significant progress towards this goal by achieving gender parity within its senior management. We look forward to the organization hopefully achieving this at all levels by 2028, or preferably sooner.

The principle of equal rights for women and men is one of the pillars upon which the UN was founded. It is rooted in the recognition that gender equality is a fundamental human right and that empowering all women is essential for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.

The blueprint to achieving this was outlined by the UN in 2015 with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which enshrines the ambition in Sustainable Development Goal 5 to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

As an agenda-setting organisation that plays an influential role on the world stage, the UN has a responsibility to lead by example in advocating for gender equality from the inside out. This entails ensuring that women from a variety of backgrounds are equally represented at all levels of the UN system, and is necessary for both its credibility and effectiveness in applying a gender lens to its policies and programs.

An inclusive, gender-balanced and culturally diverse workforce, operating within a system that support’s women’s equal access to decision-making, will enable the UN to carry out its mandate more successfully.

Although gender parity is an important component of achieving gender equality within the UN, what is also needed is a frank examination and enhancement of the organizational culture and ways of working. The UN has spoken of the need to “create a working environment that embraces equality, eradicates bias, and is inclusive of all staff.”

Whilst it is encouraging to see the progress being made at the UN, there are still areas where commitments must be translated into effective action, and this pertains particularly to the handling of sexual abuse and harassment within the work environment, even as the workplace itself is evolving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2018, UN Women appointed an Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination. This office was tasked with “supporting States, government administrations and the private sector to ensure actions are taken to respond to women’s experiences of sexual harassment.”

It contributed to the adoption of the UN System Model Policy on Sexual Harassment by the Chief Executives Board, as well as promoting much-needed awareness raising and open discussion of the issue at the highest levels of the UN itself.

Unfortunately, this office has just been closed permanently, undermining the Secretary-General’s “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual harassment and putting into question the UN’s commitment to priortizing this as in important issue in need of addressing.

Greater attention and improvement are required regarding the handling of sexual harassment and abuse cases involving UN staff, including those in senior management. A staff survey investigating sexual harassment within the organization was carried out in 2018.

Only 17.1 percent of staff responded but of those who did, a third reported they had experienced harassment, with junior and temporary staff being particularly targeted. 12 percent of the perpetrators were in senior leadership positions and incidents were cited in which offenders were not punished or condemned, despite numerous charges being levied against them.

This type of failure was clearly illustrated when the UN’s own internal Dispute Tribunal called the “accountability gap deplorable” in a recent case involving compensation for sexual harassment committed by a previous chair of the International Civil Service Commission against a UN staff member who worked under him.

Although the chair was a UN official elected by the UN General Assembly, he was deemed to be outside the jurisdiction of the UN Secretary-General and as such, no action was taken by the Tribunal. This demonstrates a systemic failure in dealing with cases of this kind.

Sexual harassment and abuse thrive where there is a culture that fosters a lack of accountability that enables perpetrators to act with impunity. Tackling it requires clear and effective leadership to ensure the implementation of adequate safeguarding measures.

Senior management must enact changes to embed transparency across the board, tackle the continuing problem of under-reporting, and provide better support to victims and whistle-blowers who disclose allegations. Only then, will the UN truly be on course to achieve gender equality within its own ranks and stand as a role model for others.

For media enquiries and interview requests please contact Tara Carey at tcarey@equalitynow.org; +44 (0)20 7304 6902; +44 (0)7971 556 340.

*Equality Now is an international human rights organisation that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. It’s international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.

For details of current campaigns, go to www.equalitynow.org, Facebook @equalitynoworg, and Twitter @equalitynow.

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